Dr. Wayne F. Gersen is an educational consultant who recently retired as Superintendent of SAU 70 in Hanover and Norwich. After earning graduate degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Gersen served six years as a high school administrator in Pennsylvania and Maine and 29 years as Superintendent in Maine, New Hampshire, Maryland and New York. He did adjunct teaching at SUNY New Paltz and Vermont College and has had several articles published in Education Week. He is writing this blog in hopes of changing the way educators, board members, and members of the public think about public education.

Discourse on public education is stuck in a rut because the public thinks of public schools as factories. When I shared this observation with some colleagues a few years ago, their response was “So what? Everyone knows that! What difference does it make”. Their rejoinder was partially true. First, NOT everyone knows that schools are modeled after factories. Secondly, the notion that school-is-a-factory is so ingrained that we cannot conceive of a different method for organizing education. Finally, it DOES make a difference because when we unwittingly accept the notion that schools can only be organized like they are today we avoid asking questions like:

  • Why do we group students in grade levels based on their age?
  • Why do we group students within a particular grade level based on their rate of learning?
  • Why do we group students at all?
  • Why does school take place in a limited time frame?
  • Why do we believe there is “one best way” to educate ALL children?

All of these practices are in place because they result in “efficiency” in the factory school… and until we change our minds about how schools are organized, until we replace our conception of schools as a factory with a new mental model, we will continue measuring “quality” by giving standardized tests to students grouped in “grade levels” and recycling “new ideas” and “reforms” based on ways to run the factory more efficiently.

This blog will attempt to change the discourse on public education by offering thought provoking responses to articles on public education. Some of my reactions will be to articles that address policy issues specific to public education: merit pay; vouchers; school choice; etc. I will also respond to articles that address social policy issues that affect children: before-and-after-school child care; health insurance for children; homelessness; etc. I will also respond to articles that either challenge or reinforce the dominant paradigm of factory schools and offer new ideas about how to educate children. Finally, I will share my perspective on other columns or blogs I read on-line.

  1. May 11, 2013 at 4:36 pm

    Thank you Dr. Gersen for responding to the ever push for defining our children over a new tidal wave of testing that is sweeping our country. High Stakes testing that is putting enormous anxiety on our kids who are threatened by their outcome. I fear that my mission as a school to guide our students to healing, hope, resiliency, and onto graduation is being threatened. I serve our most vulnerable, and they have the most to lose in this testing environment.

    The class of 2013 in Washington State will be denied their high school diploma even with meeting all other state and local graduation requirements, but fail the state math standard. 13 yrs of education being defined by an ideology with little to know evidence based research.

    3,700 students are currently at serious risk if not already have told that they will not graduate. I am communicating with a mother on the other side of our state. Her daughter has a 3.8 GPA, she has earned 15 college credits while being in high school, and she volunteers as a mentor for an elementary student. She was very excited to be have been accepted to the university of her choice.

    Her mother is an incredible woman. She and her daughter are the definition of resilience, they have gone through a very traumatic life, which has been flooded with adverse conditions, yet they survived with incredible character. Due to the toxic stress that was endured, her brain development was impacted and is hardwired differently. She has struggled with math all of her life, and just can’t do abstract concepts….with a math tutor at her side to support.

    She has not been able to meet the math standard….abstract concepts. She is being denied her high school diploma. The students not meeting standard are being described by state policy makers as lazy, had more than enough chances to pass, did not take the new law seriously, and those that could stop this madness are content to fail students and force them into dropout. The results for one student….she has been labeled a failure, she is vomiting over the incredible stress. She is beating herself up for not being able to pass the state exam, and is in a deep depression with high anxiety. She feels she does not deserve to go to college…. if she can’t earn a high school diploma. Every where mom has turned for help, she is turned away…even from her daughter’s school. I have been sick as I communicate as much as possible with mom as I have been fighting the state since December with little progress.

    We have to stop this madness. The university understands the ridiculous ideology as being purely wrong. They are not going to deny her entrance to college, but this young lady has been put through enough pain in her life to be punished, labeled and rejected from the same system in which she has thrived…accept in math.

    Jim Sporleder
    Principal, Lincoln High School
    Walla Walla, Washington

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