Many school reform reports, many politicians, and typical media coverage attribute today’s reform efforts to the failure of the schools. We need, say critics, to return to the good old days when schools were tough and everybody learned! This essay debunks the Golden Age myth by comparing John Deere tractors to school reform. In the analogy, repeated upgrades of the old two-cylinder motor during the decade of the fifties were associated with the demise of the family farm. The new models were more powerful than the tractors they replaced, but not enough. Eventually, John Deere evolved to the new 4010 series of four and six cylinder power plants. Similarly, schools are getting “bigger” (figuratively, based on higher expectations) in response to the information age economy. Unlike the alleged Golden years, we now expect everyone to graduate and emerge well educated. Like the two-cylinder upgrades, today’s schools are improved over their predecessors, but not enough. The current reform era will likely continue until goals for both high quality and equity for all groups are reached. Meanwhile, economies of scale can have negative effects. For both farms and schools, the bigger is better aspect of economic efficiency must be balanced against quality of life considerations.
Miller, Stephen. 2007. "John Deere Tractors and School Reform: Balancing Economies of Scale and Quality of Life." Journal of Rural Social Sciences, 22(1): Article 8. Available at: https://egrove.olemiss.edu/jrss/vol22/iss1/8