Are Our Schools Failing?

Our public education system has experienced many challenges during the last 50 years. One challenge involves incorrect assumptions about what a school is. Too often we think a school is the same as a factory. I have many years experience as an organizational consultant dealing with factories and schools and it is important to know how they differ.

There are two major differences.  A factory produces physical, tangible products; a school’s product is mental and psychological.  A factory can control its input of raw materials; a school cannot. A factory can exactly specify the quality of its input materials that will be used to manufacture its physical products; a factory rejects whatever materials that do not meet those specifications. A school must attempt to educate whatever children live within its boundaries regardless of their readiness to learn when they arrive at the schoolhouse door. A school must continue to attempt to educate children regardless of the community conditions they live in.

Let us consider these last statements. This time of year there is much discussion about SOL test scores and schools being fully accredited.  This is an annual drill involving much the same theme. All discussion focuses on teachers, administrators, instructional approaches, technology, buildings, equipment, etc. That is to say, all improvement efforts focus on what can be done to improve schools. All of this assumes that SOL scores and accreditation are a result of internal school/factory activities.  To improve test scores all the Suffolk School Division needs to do is create schools and teachers that are exactly the same as schools that produce high test scores.  

This is a false assumption. As is often the case steps to improve something based on false assumptions will most often fail. Low test scores are a symptom of social conditions within the community served by the school. We are not going to improve school test scores until we find effective ways to address community issues. It should be obvious that 50 years and trillions of dollars spent on such efforts are not working. New approaches are needed to create communities more like the communities that have high test scores.


In the mean time we can assume the old saying is true, “It takes a village to raise a child.” But it is also true that no school or other government agencies can overcome what a village does not produce – children ready to learn, children motivated to strive toward a quality education, children with the social skills needed to effectively function in a school/organizational/social environment. 

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© By Joseph L. Bass, EdD and Barbara P. Starkey-Bass - 2016