What Should the Standard Deviation be For Education?

Batch-–noun
1. a quantity or number coming at one time or taken together: a batch of prisoners.
2. the quantity of material prepared or required for one operation: mixing a batch of concrete.
–verb (used with object)
1. to combine, mix, or process in a batch.

In business the process of batching is used to trade off the cost of setting up a process, and the cost of processing time. That is to say if I am making bicycles I must first weld the frame, then attach the handle bars, gears and tires. If I need to produce 800 bicycles by the end of the week then I can choose to do all the welding then move on to handlebar assembly, then gear assembly, etc. If I was a factory of one person this would make sense, however by batching I’m actually increasing the time to complete each bicycle- 1 bicycle is completed when the entire batch is completed. If instead I reduced the batch size or created an assembly line system(one piece flow), the time to produce one bicycle is reduced proportionally. This is expressed in a simple equation referred to as Little’s Law: I=RT; Inventory= (Rate of Production)(Process Time).
To illustrate this means if I have an batch size of 400 (Inventory) that I can process at a rate of 160 per day this means it will take me 2.5 days to process this batch(Time). However if I reduce my batch size to 200 my time reduced proportionally to 1.25 days. I won’t produce any more total by the end of the week by reducing the batch. So if my customer wants 400 units, they would still have to wait 2.5 days. But if I have two customers who each want 200 units, one can have it in 1.25 days, and the other in 2.5 days. Changing the batch size gives me more flexibility to adjust my production process as needed to meet customer demand.

In general, I think making analogies between business/manufacturing and humans is only helpful when it’s done to explore potential problems. The spirit of an analogy is broken when folks assume it is an equivalent. That said: Batching seems to be the idea behind teaching. Stick 20-30 kids in a room, educate them to a certain level and send them on to the next stage of the process. A child is like a unit of goods sold in the sense that some are poor, average and good quality at the beginning of the process (meaning are the refined enough for a specific stage in the process). A child can also become a poor, average or good quality product based on the process. We measure the child at the end of each grade against a standard that’s been set (standardized tests). We measure the child’s personality based on how well adjusted they are. The problem with this is it’s based on the environment, some shouldn’t be adjusted to. A child is unlike a unit of goods sold in the sense that there is not such thing as industrial child waste (although to hear some parents tell diaper stories perhaps it’s not completely true). Still, one main goal of a manufacturing firm is to reduce waste because that means lost money. To reduce waste they send in Six Sigma black belts to improve the process and reduce the deviations from the quality parameters.

The education process does produce waste. The process was designed to work for most kids, and it does exactly that. If you’re too poor, your parents work nights, and can’t help with homework, you’re not as likely to succeed. If you learn differently than other students, you’re not likely to receive the individual attention you need to understand the material, which will prevent you from understanding the next level of study. If you’re too smart, you may get bored and hate school. If you’re too different, you may spend most of your brain power on how to avoid bullies.

Perhaps the analogy is useful in the sense that if we redesign the process for educating children perhaps we can reduce waste. It would be ideal to reduce the batch size of class rooms, more individualized attention, progression that matches the student’s aptitude.

This post isn’t really a lecture, although it started that way. I’d like it to be a starting point for a discussion.

How can we redesign the process of education on greater scale to reduce industrial child waste?

Would less focus on age/grade levels and peer standards decrease the ability to monitor child quality?

How can we integrate technology to decrease the processing time and replace outdated methods, rather than supplement them?

With the lack of political will to fund education in it’s current form, what improvements can be made so that the process still produces quality students?

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~ by The Great and Powerful RB on September 10, 2011.

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