Back in the late 1700s, Eli Whitney and others began manufacturing gun parts to exact specifications. Prior to that time, each weapon had to be painstakingly built individually. With the manufacture of identical parts, guns could be very quickly assembled from bins of parts.
Much later, Henry Ford advanced this concept with his assembly lines and affordably-priced cars; and today's advanced supply-chains are the reason behind all of the myriad products and services we enjoy. In the world of information services, computer programmers often employ another evolution called Object-Oriented Programming (OOP), keeping complex programs manageable and fast to deploy by using discrete, self-contained blocks of code and data, or "objects."
Streamlined production techniques like interchangeable parts, teamwork, OOP, and others have been responsible for enormous gains in manufacturing speed, quality, and worker productivity. Using these common business practices, a trained worker can create a far better and more consistent product -- exponentially faster -- than even a skilled craftsman with a lifetime of experience.
Are methods such as these applicable to education? Is it necessary for each individual teacher to build up his/her own bank of lessons, assignments, and test-questions to use and adapt each year for the remainder of his/her career, similar to the individual artisans of the 18th century?
This year thousands of students will read "A Separate Peace." Millions more will begin to learn basic multiplication and division. Yet these students will all be taught slightly differently, in classroom-islands, with teachers employing a wide range of materials & strategies with varying degrees of success.
Amidst so much talk about "merit pay" to reward "successful" teachers -- meaning those who can show consistent and consistently-increasing test-scores -- maybe it's time to consider helping ALL teachers by giving them some consistent tools and training. Harnessing competition in an attempt to force capitalism onto an educational system seems like a blunt instrument -- a solution posited by people whose only tool is a hammer.
Rather than spend our resouces building an army of "artisans" and asking them to figure it out individually, maybe it would be more effective to adapt some basic, proven, cost-effective, and wildly successful business techniques in schools. Merit pay might be a great idea, but it's only part of the solution at best.
With the release of the movie Waiting for Superman and pundits from the NYTimes to Oprah highlighting the "deplorable state of our nation's educational system," it's clear that "something must be done!" No doubt. Of course the movie's heart is in the right place along with all of the many critics'. But rather than an unhelpful and unproductive barrage of criticism and division, maybe it's time for a Second Act: "No Teacher Left Behind."