In May 2019, the Christensen Institute interviewed members of the Presidents Forum to identify challenges in higher education that require collaborative efforts and systemic change. A number of themes emerged that, already relevant before COVID-19 ravaged the nation, have only grown in importance and urgency. This is the first of four blog posts, all written prior to the pandemic, that address these themes and share insights from the leaders of some of higher education’s most innovative institutions.

Every time we do a handoff in higher ed, it’s a bad handoff.

– Joe May, Dallas County Community College Chancellor

Our education system is often critiqued as being “a factory model.” As Michael B. Horn has written, “Today’s factory-model education system, which was built to standardize the way we teach, falls short in educating successfully each child for the simple reason that just because two children are the same age, it does not mean they learn at the same pace or should follow the same pathway.”

The worst factory ever

Higher ed is bad at handoffs--and it's crippling student achievement

The imagery of a factory conjures standardized outputs coming off an assembly line. Tubes of toothpaste, boxes of cereal, lightbulbs, iPhones. Each the same size, weight, and color, with specified and measurable fluoride content, nutritional value, wattage, or battery life.

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The factory model of school uses one-size-fits-all inputs, but instead of creating standardized output, there is deplorably wide variation, as measured by student preparedness for life after college. The Nation’s Report Card shows that 12th-grade benchmarks in math and reading are met by a paltry 25% and 37% of high school graduates, respectively. Recent data from ACT, taken by 52% of high school students, shows rising numbers—now over a third—of test-takers meeting none of the test’s four benchmarks for college readiness.

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[Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on the Christensen Institute’s blog and is reposted here with permission.]


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