The Failure of Factory Education

People believed that education failed to teach basic skills to students before COVID-19. People after lock down believe that public school distance education is a sham. Neither matters. The failure of factory education is real, but it is not about learning or quality. Learning and quality are distractions from the issue of schooling. The public belief in a systemic failure of schools began with the abysmal assessment by Rudolph Flesch in 1955, Why Johnny Can’t Read – And What You Can Do About It . The idea that schools fail students stuck and remains fresh. National Review published “Why Johnny Still Can’t Read” by Baker A. Mitchell Jr. on October 10, 2020. The article focused again on quality of education. The topic is evergreen, but still not relevant. Public education is doing very well in the United States. You just need to measure the right thing.

Educators like reform because reform implies that the current education system can be improved tactically. Educators intentionally conflate learning with education. People learn. For example, about 80% of students learn to read well using any educational method, as shown by Russ Walsh1 so long as they are exposed to reading. Given opportunity and motivation, people can learn almost anything. Education is different. Education begins with ideas, with curriculum, and intends to insert these ideas and facts into students. Learning basic skills is often incidental.

According to a 2017 Gallup Poll, public perception has been stable for many decades. Stable, but not good. The 2017 result of 36% public confidence in educational quality could not elect a dogcatcher. It does not have to elect anyone. The survey results would kill most commercial products. Stores can’t sell milk at 36% consumer confidence. Nobody buys a car with 36% confidence in its quality.

The education industry works on what is important: to increase budgets, to implement changes, to redesign the testing process, and make revisions to curriculum.  Education and reform progresses decade after decade, budget after budget, regardless of the public opinion of quality.

The education establishment knows that children are the product. No matter how people feel about schooling, the vast majority of residents send their children to one public school or another private school for as long as the children will attend. Parents in every social stratum expose children to educational institutions. They did before 1955. They do today.

Public opinion of the educational system is declining, according to the media, but not according to polls of the public. Media coverage of education is skeptical on the editorial page, but it lists school closings prominently during bad weather.

Educators and politicians find the idea of a broken education system useful to squeeze the public bankroll. Public demand for better quality gets teachers hired, gets higher pay, and gets public support for increased funding of the industry. This industry employs “3.2 million full-time-equivalent teachers, according to federal projections  for the fall of 2020,” and “90,850 public school principals in the U.S., according to 2017-18 numbers from NCES .” And it gives jobs to school bus drivers, mechanics, and millions of other workers, some in school bus factories.

 The system puts 27,000 yellow buses on the roads twice a day, five days a week in every nook and cranny of America. That is not evidence of a broken system. Millions of families participate. Millions. These people are not confronted with a failed system. Ask anyone to ride a bus in Los Angeles. Millions don’t. That’s a failed system.

Educators support the current system because it works for them. People come out of the educational factory and staff jobs. Other people come out and populate jails. Everything works. Prisons need illiterate criminals as much as Microsoft needs social media analysts. Bodies through the system are the only product.

The President of the United States made opening schools a priority issue in 2021 despite the reality that teachers generally felt safer working from home during the pandemic. The quality of teaching changed little. Distance programs provided the students with remote classrooms. Lessons proceeded. Teachers appeared. Teachers taught. Seniors graduated in the spring. Social services continued as before. For most anyway. Why the urgency for a return to brick and mortar schooling? Education was broken in 2020. The factory closed. No product moved down the assembly line. The “butts in seats” education requires school bus drivers getting up before dawn. It requires factory attendance. The virtual education factory is no factory, so the people who benefit most from the brick-and-mortar education system will resist change. Educators today are like small shop owners looking at a Walmart opening across the street. 

School does not need to be a factory in 2021. If the  focus on making the virtual school better became fashionable, it could align with all the other changes in the Internet Age. This shutdown could be the opportunity to upgrade broadband, give access to poor neighborhoods and rural areas, provide resources to families, and improve learning quality. All that modernization of public infrastructure would bring additional benefits to all parts of the country, the way the Interstate Highway System improved commerce and vacations.

What would America be like without the familiar school on the corner? Maybe factory education follows big newspapers, typesetter unions, stenographers and the corner grocery into Internet Heaven. Maybe it will follow the yellow school bus into history.

 

Gallup: Confidence in Public Schools Rallies

The Washington Post in 2018 Says Our Schools Have Not Failed

2018-2019 Annual Public Education Perception Poll

Why Schools Graduate Students Who Can’t Read

Wikipedia.org/ Why Johnny Can’t Read

The System’s Point-of-View

Rudolph Flesch and The Elephant in the Room

1 By Russ Walsh | Original article on Russ on Reading | Russ Walsh is the author of A Parent’s Guide to Public Education in the 21st Century: Navigating Education Reform to Get the Best Education for My Child | Buy on Amazon, Barnes & Noble | Twitter: @ruswalsh

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Free To Learn

“After a child has arrived at the legal age for attending school, whether he be the child of noble or of peasant, the only two absolute grounds of exemption are sickness and death.” -Horace Mann


 

  • Most teachers  trained for teaching, not distance learning.
  • Most broadband infrastructure gets a solid “D”
  • Many parents want “school care” while they work
  • Teachers want classroom privacy
  • Distance public school is not home school

What We Learned About Home Schooling From COVID-19


Primary school in the early 1800s remained a local and private process. Families arranged the primary education through a local church or by subscription in a community. Washington Irving’s image of Ichabod Crane tottering into town on his poor horse reflected the reality of colonial America.

The public school movement in Massachusetts in 1837 was in opposition to the rise of parochial schools to educate poor Irish and German immigrant children pouring into the country.

Horace Mann, along with Henry Barnard and Catherine Beecher, gets credit for the common school movement in response to the “school wars” of the period.

Mann clearly believed that young savages could be educated into republican citizens. He said, “Jails and prisons are the complement of schools; so many less as you have of the latter, so many more must you have of the former.”

Public school steadily became compulsory until by 1900 Abraham Lincoln’s education of “bits and pieces”, his informal classical education could not exist legally in any home. Homeschooling gradually returned, but all fifty states only allowed homeschooling again in 1993, and then under strict state legal constraints.

Usher in the plague of 2020.

Teachers died and schools emptied until distance education was the new normal. Education Week said that by early May 2020, 80 percent of teachers reported that they interacted with the majority of their students remotely. Nearly two centuries of the Common School Movement ended with a bang.

Public and private schools displayed glittering unpreparedness. School in some places became giant staff meetings with teachers staring for hours into little Zoom windows of student faces, lecturing, holding up pieces of paper to the laptop camera, and sending off emails.

Even this electronic Common School covered only a fraction of the “savages” who had been in classrooms before the holidays in 2019.

The lucky students had broadband Internet in their homes. They watched their teachers in privacy. The home broadband allowed them to ask questions in real time, and submit material either on the schools platform or with email.

The rest, those in small apartments, or whose parents needed to use the computer to work, or whose parents were “essential workers” and could not watch them, it was much less education than even the staff meeting model. Many seniors graduated in the spring of 2020 without the school having any idea whether they had jumped through the common hoops.

True, some school districts provided distance education to students through programs like K-12 that the districts had been using for marginal and troubled students. These schools expanded the distance enrollment, added existing teachers as instructors, provided laptops to those families without home resources, and even sometimes installed Internet into student’s homes.

Most schools also continued the food and counseling programs on-site for disadvantaged students who were dependent on the nutrition programs. The problem was that the alternative programs originally charged additional fees for providing services. The common school adaptation of their resources were a substantial drain on district funds.

Most teachers who trained to teach in the classroom were unprepared for the remote classroom. Teaching distance classes challenged the eyes and the imagination. Besides, what happened to the value of socialization at school. The ghost of Horace Mann stood in the audience in mute horror.

Despite calls to restart schools and most schools complying in fits and starts, 2021 is apt to continue the process of remote learning. The near-monopoly on common education is gone, so what we learned about home schooling from COVID-19 going into the second year of the pandemic and intermittent school lock-downs?

A few things:

    • Educators remain unprepared and under-trained for distance learning. Some Silicon Valley companies, like Oracle and Cisco, train staff extensively across the world on-line. The certification processes work in transferring complex knowledge to diverse populations; however, these classes automated applications. Public School Teachers never conceived of delivering education like that. That is, without them involved.
    • The infrastructure in most communities stands woefully inadequate to deliver distance learning into any home where a student lives. Ramping up the infrastructure of broadband, particularly to rural communities is a national project costing billions of dollars and for what? To replace the government schools and political educators with online applications?
    • Schooling in the home requires a proctor to supervise the child. Multiple job families provide no proctor for the child, and may need the computer and Internet resources for work.Continued home classroom requirements could require rethinking the entire two income economy. The school as babysitter and nutrition center is almost as durable a feature of common schools as the yellow school bus.
    • Moreover, parents often chose public or private school over homeschooling because of the school and the teacher. To force parents to receive distance education from the school district, joins the unwilling with the unqualified. Again, the Oracle University model works, but present home school providers own best existing course-ware. Few public schools would be comfortable giving up their own curriculum.
    • This applies to teachers too. Parents are often not welcome in the home classroom. Teachers find outsiders hard to deal with and believe that the home environment can have a chilling effect of open discourse. This may be ideological, but it may just be that nobody likes to work with strangers looking over their shoulder.
    • The existing homeschooling parents went through the lock downs barely missing a beat. Those children are at least a year ahead of their common school neighbors. Reports of others filling their ranks during 2020 are unconfirmed, but likely. They may have been living on the cutting edge of the future of American education.

 

What We Learned About Home Schooling From COVID-19?

Can the obvious problems of teacher training, home infrastructure and family resources come up to speed? This conflicts with the mission of every government school.

Can a project the scope of this be implemented? Urban and rural? Affluent and poor? Across parties and political boundaries? Or will local governments just override the health concerns of teacher unions and parents and open up the schools anyway? After all, the “classroom to job or prison” model is deeply entrenched.

Who is going to drive those yellow buses into the next century? The public education sector employs millions. Powerful forces oppose this change.

What We Learned About Home Schooling From COVID-19? We learned that the venerated old institution of common schools must change. We learned also that the public sector has no ideas how to change it.