Schools Cannot Do It Alone: Chapter 6

Posted by
A book study: Please participate in the discussion by leaving a comment below.

Part 7 in a series of chapter summaries–book club style–by New Richmond teacher, Scott Herron, who says:

Maybe you’ve heard the now famous “blueberries story” about education. That story comes from this book. So, I have an idea. As I’m reading this, I don’t want to be the only one hearing its message which we ALL should be hearing in this current educational and political climate.

So, here’s what I’m going to do: As I read each chapter I’m going to summarize its main points and important quotes/ideas. I think once you start reading you’re going to want to hear the rest. As we go through the book, I hope it sparks discussion and, at the very least, makes you feel more understood and appreciated like it has for me. Furthermore, I firmly believe that the message of this book needs to be our central mission as we go forward at the local, state, and federal level as we take the lead in the direction of education and its reform.


You can read the rest of Scott’s proposal here.

The New Competitive Equation

The wise one knows what time it is. –Zen Proverb

The industrial age is being replaced by a post-industrial “knowledge age.”

Americans find themselves in a brutally competitive global market where our traditional competitive advantages are being marginalized, stolen, or sold. Even in Iowa, where my house sits surrounded by row crops for as far as the eye can see, less than ten percent of the people work in agriculture. Our workers, once the envy of the world, are now challenged by an increasingly literate global labor force comprised of people who are hungry, eager, and willing to work for a fraction of the American wage. American capital pours across international boundaries seeking investment opportunities that promise the highest rate of return.

Smart companies have adapted to the new reality, and yet they control none of the traditional sources of wealth. They control knowledge. Their CEOs understand that employees must learn, and apply what they have learned, faster than competition. To that end, they place their employees in the center of rewarding, supportive environments that nourish the growth of creative intelligence. Then they arrange all the traditional factors of production to serve this expanding core of knowledge. America’s best leaders have devised a new winning formula for the knowledge age, where people are the core competitive advantage.

What’s most extraordinary about the new equation — and most alarming from the perspective of our schools — is that the “learned-to-laboring” ratio has been reversed. Not just changed. Everywhere, lines are being blurred between the thinkers and doers.

Workers who once needed little more than manual dexterity and mechanical aptitude now work in settings where symbols and keyboards have replaced hammers and wrenches. Frontline workers increasingly function in self-directed, multi-ethnic teams where they work to set goals, develop budgets, control quality, and solve problems. In the rapidly expanding office economy, which now employs forty-one percent of our workforce and accounts for most of the job growth, cumbersome top-down hierarchies have been replaced by flatter, flexible organizations that give all employees greater discretion and control. Employees who were previously relegated to menial tasks now are daily called upon to add value, variety, and convenience to existing products and services.

The hoopla over the need to teach job-specific skills in high school is overblown — there are too many unknowns. But it is abundantly clear that low-skill/high-wage jobs are gone. A strong back, a willingness to work, and a tolerance for tedium will no longer afford access to the American Dream. Income inequalities are rising; the poorly educated have been marginalized. We have reached the point where a good education has become a basic requirement for success.

In a single generation, we have raised the bar from requiring universal student attendance to demanding universal student achievement. We have promoted quality education for centuries, but never once have we provided even a simple majority of America’s youth with the kind of education that virtually all of them need today. No wonder so many teachers and administrators are exhausted by Thanksgiving. The deck is stacked against them.

We must do all we can to empower, encourage, and, when appropriate, push all of the people working within our schools to function at their highest level; after parents, no one plays more important role in ensuring a child’s success than his or her teachers. But no matter how hard or smart our educators work, they cannot accomplish the goal.

I had come a long way in my understanding of the problems facing our schools…convinced that our schools needed to change, and after four years of intense study and observation, I was more convinced than ever. The difference was that I now knew why.

Of course, not everyone agreed with my conclusion. My analysis of the system problem was met with mixed reviews. Some teachers and administrators were keenly aware that there was something wrong. Many confessed that they did their best work in spite of the system. But there were many more who took issue with the selecting premise.

I saw it each time I stood before an audience and began to make my case for change. Facial expressions changed. Teachers, administrators, and board members who minutes before were cheering at the blue-berry story and laughing at the smelly eighth graders suddenly seized up. And during the ensuing Q & A, a chorus of voices rose up, singing variation on the following theme:

“Hold on there, Bub! I’m not selecting and sorting in my classroom! I care about all these kids, sometimes more than their parents. I’m showing up here every day and working
myself to the point of exhaustion to prepare them for the challenges they face.”

I knew that most of them were dedicated professionals. I knew that their days were long, their compensation was inadequate, and they deserved to be praised every day. But I also knew that all of them were selecting and sorting their students whether they wanted to or not. I knew it because there was a smoking gun — a flaw sitting right in the middle of the education process exposed for all to see. An aspect of standard operating procedure that absolutely guarantees that everyone working in our schools, despite their best efforts, selects and sorts their students every day. The problem is huge and unbelievably problematic, but it can be described in four words: we hold time constant.

AMAZON SITE: If you want to get the book, you can go to



  1. Michele Hewitt says:

    I think it can be summed up by the idea that “we hold time constant.” Students with technological expertise definitely have an advantage in this day and age.

  2. I see something really interesting about your website so I saved to fav.
    cheap tiffany and co jewellery

  3. Gail Crossley says:

    I think that besides technological expertise, the ability to be flexible and adapt quickly to change are important traits needed by both students and educators.