80-10problemLinda Darling-Hammond notes:

The factory model high school as we now call it was designed in about 1910 or 1920. The idea of that comprehensive high school was to cream off about 5% of the kids for specialized knowledge work. They would go off to college and fill the very small number of jobs that required that kind of thinking. The rest of the kids were supposed to be prepared for the farm, the factory, the mills - for you know, fairly rote kinds of learning. And over time vocational programs were put in place and other kinds of general programs.

The notion of these schools was that they were to select and sort kids, decide who was going to go where in the economy. Most of the work was not going to be thinking work. And we were going to crank them out on this assembly line process.

Richard Elmore confirms that the factory-school model continues today:

When you code classroom practice for level of cognitive demand . . . 80% of the work is at the factual and procedural level. . . . [Teachers] will do low-level work and call it high-level work.

So does Robert Pianta:

The average fifth grader received five times as much instruction in basic skills as instruction focused on problem solving or reasoning; this ratio was 10:1 in first and third grades.

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics notes:

Agricultural workers = 2.12 million
Manufacturing workers = 11.67 million
All workers = 138.98 million

Overall share of agricultural and manufacturing workers = 10%

It’s 2010, and the vast majority of American jobs are in the services sector. Yet we continue to spend 80% of our classroom time (or more) on the skills needed for 10% of our jobs.

Principals, superintendents, school board members, and policymakers: Could the problem be any clearer? Isn’t this a pretty damning indictment of our inability to change? Aren’t you all supposed to be leaders?