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What Do Teaching and Manufacturing Have in Common?

In an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times, authors Saul Rubinstein, Charles Heckscher and Paul Adler use the history of manufacturing in the United States to draw a parallel to the current "blame the teacher" attitude in public education. The authors say that back in the 1970s, factory workers were blamed for a decrease in productivity when U.S. companies began losing market share to Japanese competitors, just as teachers today are often blamed for the weaknesses in public education.

The Times hones in on W. Edwards Deming's argument that the U.S. industry's failure had more to do with the outdated management system in which the workers labored under than the actual performance of the workers. The authors write:

Much of the current wave of school reform is informed by the same management myths that almost destroyed U.S. manufacturing. Instead of seeing teachers as key contributors to system improvement efforts, reformers are focused on making teachers more replaceable. Instead of involving teachers and their unions in collaborative reform, they are being pushed aside as impediments to top-down decision-making. Instead of bringing teachers together to help each other become more effective professionals, district administrators are resorting to simplistic quantified individual performance measures.

The authors also point out that some school districts have "moved beyond the blame-the-teacher view," and seen "outstanding" performance results. In the ABC Unified School District near Los Angeles, they write, teachers, union representatives, and administrators have worked in collaboration to develop evaluation systems and peer assistance and mentoring programs to raise teaching quality—and the district's graduation rate is now 15 percentage points above the statewide average.

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