Dr. Stat

Dr. Stat is a Statistics Professor. This blog is his opportunity to share ideas and opinions about education (especially math education), politics, and whatever else comes up.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

More on the management analogy

I have been carrying on a discussion with JennyD in the comments section of my May 5 article, Are Teachers Responsible for Student Learning? She didn't like the industrial analogy to education very much. However, in answering her comments, I have been more convinced that the analogy is valid. My article should be read carefully, and with thoughtfulness. Don't be trapped by "jargon" and misinterpret or misrepresent what is written. No analogy is perfect, and this one isn't meant to be either.

Saying the teacher has the role of manager does not mean that all teachers do is "classroom management," a term that has a rather narrow meaning in educational parlance. Managers have roles in planning, motivating, promoting, selection of resources, production targets, and many other things.

I have said that education is the only business where the customer is the product. That's not exactly right, but it does cloud the issues for this analogy. It also explains part of why education is a "messy" business. In quality control (Demming, Taguchi, etc.) the production process is broken down into small steps or stages. The team at each stage needs to analyze its part in the process, defining who its customers and suppliers are, what the customer requirements are, and what parts of the process can be changed to reduce variation in the product, as well as to streamline the process. The customers and suppliers can be internal or external to the company, and are found at various levels. Suppose you work in a factory attaching wheels to lawn mowers. Your immediate customers are the workers at the next station down the line. Your intermediate customers might be retailers, and of course the ultimate customers are the people who buy the lawn mowers to use them. The quality of your work can be assessed by inspection and customer satisfaction surveys.

Suppose now you are a 3rd grade teacher doing a lesson in math. The students are customers who have certain requirements (as expressed on their behalf by parents and school board). The product they request is a mathematical concept or computational skill. Now I ask you to consider: What is it you have been hired to do? Can you produce the concept or skill and transfer it to the customer? Or are you a middleman, transferring the knowledge or skill from some warehouse that others have stored it up in? Certainly not. Only the students, by their own mental effort, can construct a concept, or practice a skill until it is automated. The teacher cannot do this work for them. Therefore, the students are the production workers. They make the product (learning) happen. What then, is the role of the teacher? The teacher provides an environment in which the work is to be done. The teacher analyzes the product requirements and plans a process that will produce the product. The teacher guides the students to do the necessary work, and is responsible to motivate them and evaluate the quality of the result. These are all MANAGEMENT functions.

I do not propose this as some kind of new fad for modeling instruction. It is just one way to understand some aspects of what happens in education. You can use other analogies to explain other aspects. I said earlier that this model explains why education is a "messy" business. Several business functions are muddled. The customer is the product. The workers are not the ones being paid to get results. The raw materials are highly variable, input quality cannot be controlled, and quality of the product is difficult to measure, in part because the product is never really finished.