Factory Model School: Major Impediment to Academic and Emotional Growth

Jul 5, 2015 by



Barry E. Stern, Ph.D.

“Why is it that almost all of our students in the ninth and tenth grade are way below grade level? Why is it that these students rarely cooperate in the process of learning?” These questions were posted by an experienced teacher in an urban high school. My answers:

(1) Because the students don’t care and are bored with school; (2) teachers don’t care enough to ensure their students are ready for the next grade; (3) students do not see school as where the action is; they believe they can learn more outside of school; (4) few have a compelling vision of success in a career field that interests them; (5) students would like to attend a school that helps them find and follow their passion rather than one which makes them learn what everybody else learns (i.e. pursue standards); (6) the disconnect between what schools teach and what today’s employers and colleges expect; and (7) all of the above. The correct answer is “all of the above.”

The major impediment to learning and emotional growth is the factory model high school (and to a lesser extent middle school) where students change subjects, teachers and workgroups every 45-90 minutes in response to a bell. This design has never worked for half the students, less in large cities. To be effective the traditional model requires small classes, particularly in schools with a high percentage of low-income at-risk students. This is simply not affordable in today’s economic climate. To be sure, outstanding teachers and principals can make the factory model work as they have for some 10-15 percent of high schools. But if districts want to bring high school success to scale, they will have to reinvent how they engage learners and deploy faculty time and resources.

The following articles describe a curricular framework that could begin to replace this factory model school design. Some key features include:

  • Simulated high performance collaborative workplace with curriculum that is team-taught, computer-assisted yet highly experiential and applied;
  • Cross-disciplinary lessons and projects that integrate reading, math, oral and written communications, computer, and employability skills;
  • Students support classmates through knowledge of their respective thinking styles and high performance patterns, and by integrating academics with emotional intelligence training and career development.

It remains to be seen whether the educational establishment is ready to redirect its resources, scheduling and credentialing practices to support this framework that has been proven to be highly effective and popular with out-of-school teens and young adults.



http://www.educationviews.org/annual-march-madness-schools-learn/ – describes framework’s team-oriented approach.

The Haberman Educational Foundation is seeking 3-5 urban high schools in a region that would be willing to implement this “disruptive” Fast Break model as a template for replacing the factory school design. We also invite businesses and philanthropies to help interested schools underwrite the transition costs of moving in this direction and to procure a capable experienced evaluator.

Barry Stern is an educational and workforce development consultant and senior adviser to the Haberman Educational Foundation. He is a former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of education, and director of policy and planning for the Michigan Department of Career Development. His email address is bsels@aol.com.

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    Relevance has become yet another faddish education word lately. People bandy it about without seeming to bother with understanding its meaning or with a meaning that only they know.

    The real relevance here is based on what the students’ experiences have been. This concept harks back to constructionism. It really doesn’t matter what’s out there in terms of jobs and hiring to the student. Besides, that landscape will change enormously by the time they leave college or technical school or an apprenticeship. K-12 students are grounded in the here and now, what they have experienced and are experiencing. If challenged appropriately, they will respond and learn.

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    Students HATE GROUP WORK! They want to work as INDIVIDUALS. They are sick and tired of being ROBOTS pulling along slouches. In Psych terms these non performers that benefit from those that are bright and motivated are known as “SOCIAL SLOUCHERS”. What the progressive educrats have done is what they are denying – creating ROBOTIC KIDS that can’t think and don’ perform.

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      Barry Stern

      Group work in the old factory model paradigm is not what I’m talking about. Think about how sports coaches, symphony conductors and leaders of Navy Seals get the most of their charges and ensure that everybody gets over the bar. Leaders of these enterprises use data to find out who is or is not making progress and why. They share this information with their students so that they know how to improve. The leaders (e.g. position coaches) meet daily to plan the next day and next week and assign specific roles among themselves to meet ever shifting challenges. They lead by example, modeling for students/participants the teamwork that is essential for success in the modern workplace. They are open to 360 degree evaluation where everybody has the opportunity to assess everybody and provide constructive criticism. Most of all, they never quit on their charges, always providing encouragement and seeking how to make them better people with greater competence to confront life’s challenges. When these team-oriented conditions are present, and the content is taught in interesting ways, young people will line up to participate. The model I described, incidentally, is not only “group work”. There is a considerable amount of individual work as well. To complete the program, students have to achieve at least 10th grade skill in reading and math and improve at least one level from where they started. This requires considerable individual effort, yet it’s okay to ask for and receive help from one’s peers as well as the teachers.

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        I stand by my comments. Students absolutely HATE group work. They want to recognized and treated with respect as individuals. They are tired of not being able to express themselves as individuals and expected to give canned politically correct responses. You are out of touch with students.

        Students are not interested in having other students evaluate them. They are looking for leadership in the teacher not a peer that knows lees than they do evaluating them. Then it becomes a popularity contest. Smart kids are not interested in tutoring kids either. Smart kids need to be challenged and they are tired of “social slouches” in group work. BTW, that is a formal psychological term for members in a group that do nothing. It doesn’t take long for students to figure out who cares about their grades and then do nothing KNOWING the ones that care will do their work too. It’s called human nature. Your high brow theatrics that ignore this is troubling to say the least.

        Trying to compare high school or middle school robotic group work is not comparable to the Navy Seals and emphasizes how out of touch you are. That is a totally different scenario where only ELITE INDIVIDUALS participate in that kind of teamwork. YO are talking the cream of the crop and they qualified as INDIVIDUALS.

        You can’t sell me on the Soviet Unions style of education. It didn’t work for them and it is not working here. Bluntly put, Students are not interested in being cogs on a wheel.

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          I totally agree Ned. Almost all work was done on an individual basis when I was in grade school (mercifully-I hate group projects), and the same applied for high school since I was home-schooled. I didn’t do any group projects until college. I remember one that I did for biology in which I had to dissect a fetal pig with a couple of classmates. I ended up doing all the work since they were so grossed out by the smell of the formaldehyde.

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          Sorrowfully, I must agree with Ned. I say “sorrowfully” because it would be great if students could work democratically in groups. I have watched this process. It often works in groups of two and only occasionally in groups of three. More than three inevitably is a disaster.

          Collaboration has become the new buzzword in education. Another is relevance. We are regressing to the early 20th century when these became the mode. The failure was extreme and resulted in a backlash that was “back to basics.”

          Young people must learn to work together, and some projects can allow for that. The teacher must be a strong leader, the “adult in the room,” for this approach to succeed. It means more, not less, work for teachers. The better students tend to work alone. Why?

          Having been there, done that, I think there are two reasons. The first is that I could always move ahead much faster alone that with a group — in school as opposed to in life. The second is that I had to work twice as hard in a group because of so many slackers. Someone had to pick up that slack. Having no authority, I could not whip the slackers into line and had to make up for them. I avoided groups ever since due to this experience.

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