The Invented History of ‘The Factory Model of Education’ – Audrey Watters, 2015

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The Invented History of ‘The Factory Model of Education’


The Invented History of ‘The Factory Model of Education’

Audrey Watters

 on 25 Apr 2015

“What do I mean when I talk about transformational productivity reforms that can also boost student outcomes? Our K–12 system largely still adheres to the century-old, industrial-age factory model of education. A century ago, maybe it made sense to adopt seat-time requirements for graduation and pay teachers based on their educational credentials and seniority. Educators were right to fear the large class sizes that prevailed in many schools. But the factory model of education is the wrong model for the 21st century.” – US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (2010)

One of the most common ways to criticize our current system of education is to suggest that it’s based on a “factory model.” An alternative condemnation: “industrial era.” The implication is the same: schools are woefully outmoded.

As edX CEO Anant Agarwal puts it, “It is pathetic that the education system has not changed in hundreds of years.” The Clayton Christensen Institute’s Michael Horn and Meg Evan argue something similar: “a factory model for schools no longer works.” “How to Break Free of Our 19th-Century Factory-Model Education System,” advises Joel Rose, the co-founder of the New Classrooms Innovation Partners. Education Next’s Joanne Jacobs points us “Beyond the Factory Model.” “The single best idea for reforming K–12 education,” writes Forbes contributor Steve Denning, ending the “factory model of management.” “There’s Nothing Especially Educational About Factory-Style Management,” according to the American Enterprise Institute’s Rick Hess.

I’d like to add: there’s nothing especially historical about these diagnoses either.

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The Invented History of ‘The Factory Model of Education’