My Bangalore blogger is barely breaking a sweat or earning his meager wages. I hate to just pick on the AFTie blog but they’re really making it easy the past few days. Today AFTie John celebrates the “Blueberry Story” that makes the rounds of listserves periodically and is a favorite among anti-testing activists. It’s the kind of story that makes you feel warm all over but unfortunately in education it has an undercurrent that works at cross purposes with efforts to improve schools for low-income and minority kids. That undercurrent is the notion that since schools can’t pick their “products” the way an ice cream factory can pick its blueberries holding them accountable for their outputs is simplistic and wrongheaded. That may not be its author’s intent, but it is how it is used. [Update: To be clear I also mean how it is used in its public usage, not how AFTie John was using it here, which isn’t exactly clear. My point was merely that it is disconcerting that he didn’t take a line to point out that this undercurrent exists and, hopefully, reject it.] This is a view that the AFT has in the past vocally rejected. Al Shanker once quipped something to the effect of when you lose a quarter of your products before they reach the end of the assembly line and another quarter don’t work right when they get there then it’s not time for tweaking, it’s time to get a new assembly line. It’s a little disconcerting to see them celebrate it on their blog without some caveats about this key issue in policymaking today.
Some of the ideas about how schools should be like businesses are ridiculous and/or out of place in education or misaligned to how schools work. But unfortunately this blueberry story isn’t used to make that subtle point but rather to push back on efforts to have some accountability for results.
Incidentally, I’m not an ice cream or blueberry expert (though I did briefly live in Maine for a summer). But, it seems to me that if blueberries comprised a significant part of a company’s revenue stream or brand and the harvest came in really lousy one year because of weather, unusually hungry bears, or whatever, that company would move heaven and earth to make sure that it found top quality blueberries for its product. Now schools can’t control the kids they get (and it should go without saying that we need to do a better job with pre-natal and post-natal care, health care, early childhood education etc…), but they can move heaven and earth to make sure the kids get what they need to succeed once they’re in school. And, in fact, that’s what the best public schools, traditional, charter, or alternative do every day.
Update: Blueberry madness! Reader BW writes: The blueberry analogy is all wrong. A blueberry is already fully developed and no longer open to new inputs. This analogy may be applicable to colleges complaining about incoming students but the public schools are given precious, little, blueberry bushes. Sure, some may be more fragile and need more care but isn’t that why we have gardeners?