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.