Welcome to the Great Conversation
Jamie Vollmer


The Blueberry Story:
The teacher gives the businessman a lesson

“If I ran my business the way you people operate your schools, I wouldn’t be in business very long!”

I stood before an auditorium filled with outraged teachers who were becoming angrier by the minute. My speech had entirely consumed their precious 90 minutes of inservice. Their initial icy glares had turned to restless agitation. You could cut the hostility with a knife.

I represented a group of business people dedicated to improving public schools. I was an executive at an ice cream company that had become famous in the middle1980s when People magazine chose our blueberry as the “Best Ice Cream in America.”

I was convinced of two things. First, public schools needed to change; they were archaic selecting and sorting mechanisms designed for the industrial age and out of step with the needs of our emerging “knowledge society.” Second, educators were a major part of the problem: they resisted change, hunkered down in their feathered nests, protected by tenure, and shielded by a bureaucratic monopoly. They needed to look to business. We knew how to produce quality. Zero defects! TQM! Continuous improvement!

In retrospect, the speech was perfectly balanced — equal parts ignorance and arrogance.

As soon as I finished, a woman’s hand shot up. She appeared polite, pleasant. She was, in fact, a razor-edged, veteran, high school English teacher who had been waiting to unload.

She began quietly, “We are told, sir, that you manage a company that makes good ice cream.”

I smugly replied, “Best ice cream in America, Ma’am.”

“How nice,” she said. “Is it rich and smooth?”

“Sixteen percent butterfat,” I crowed.

“Premium ingredients?” she inquired.

“Super-premium! Nothing but triple A.” I was on a roll. I never saw the next line coming.

“Mr. Vollmer,” she said, leaning forward with a wicked eyebrow raised to the sky, “when you are standing on your receiving dock and you see an inferior shipment of blueberries arrive, what do you do?”

In the silence of that room, I could hear the trap snap…. I was dead meat, but I wasn’t going to lie.

“I send them back.”

She jumped to her feet. “That’s right!” she barked, “and we can never send back our blueberries. We take them big, small, rich, poor, gifted, exceptional, abused, frightened, confident, homeless, rude, and brilliant. We take them with ADHD, junior rheumatoid arthritis, and English as their second language. We take them all! Every one! And that, Mr. Vollmer, is why it’s not a business. It’s school!”

In an explosion, all 290 teachers, principals, bus drivers, aides, custodians, and secretaries jumped to their feet and yelled, “Yeah! Blueberries! Blueberries!”

And so began my long transformation.

Since then, I have visited hundreds of schools. I have learned that a school is not a business. Schools are unable to control the quality of their raw material, they are dependent upon the vagaries of politics for a reliable revenue stream, and they are constantly mauled by a howling horde of disparate, competing customer groups that would send the best CEO screaming into the night.

None of this negates the need for change. We must change what, when, and how we teach to give all children maximum opportunity to thrive in a post-industrial society. But educators cannot do this alone; these changes can occur only with the understanding, trust, permission, and active support of the surrounding community. For the most important thing I have learned is that schools reflect the attitudes, beliefs and health of the communities they serve, and therefore, to improve public education means more than changing our schools, it means changing America.

Copyright 2011 Jamie Robert Vollmer



Since its publication, reactions to this story have been overwhelmingly positive. Heartfelt messages of thanks and appreciation have come from around the world. They are always deeply gratifying.

There are people, however, who take issue with the lesson presented. The arguments usually fall into one of two groups. The first is comprised of those who claim that the story is simplistic, and the teacher painted with a broad brush. Sure she did. She had ninety seconds. Since that day, however, I have visited hundreds of schools and her point remains apt.

The second group argues that the comparison of children to blueberries is specious. Most of these people contend that the children are “the customers,” not the raw material. The truth is that no one can agree on who the “customers” are. Candidates include students, parents, grandparents, business owners, corporate executives, human resource directors, and college deans of admission. (I tend to designate the entire taxpaying public as the rightful customers. They are the ones who are paying.) This problem is further complicated by the fact that few of these “customers” can agree on what they want as a finished product, except in the broadest terms. Everyone has an opinion. Politicians and bureaucrats are left to define what children should know and when they should know it. And they are constantly manipulated by dozens of organized, aggressive, well funded special interest groups. Many of these groups have conflicting agendas that are directly at odds with the best interest of kids.

If the final product of the PreK-12 enterprise is a young adult prepared with the knowledge, skills, habits, and values needed to succeed in a fast-paced, global, knowledge society, then the quality of the “raw material”—the student’s talent, intelligence, physical and mental health, attention, and motivation—is a huge variable in the education process over which public schools have little control. Parents, teachers, administrators, board members, civic and business leaders must work together with the students to develop their potential and help them reach the goal. Whether they are called customers or workers is next to irrelevant.

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Comments (79)Add Comment
written by k , June 11, 2017
the teachers analogy is incorrect, the students aren't part of the product being produced, they are the consumers of the product.
written by Chris , February 10, 2017
Nitpicking over the details of the analogy misses the point. Sure, some businesses deal with things they can't return - but so what? Buy an house or car you can't repair & sell for a profit, you eat the loss, junk the item & move on. However, you can't send human beings to the landfill. Poorly educated children don't get written off the ledger, they become poorly educated citizens, and if you think that you don't have to deal with them as kids, just wait - you WILL deal with them as adults.
written by Chad Wagenmaker , November 29, 2016
Businesses that you can't return the input raw/materials. 1. Home flipper: most houses are sold as is. Buy a home with a problem...too bad. 2. Used car lot: My friend buys cars from auctions and if it has a locked engine...too bad! 3-1000 Pretty much all as is businesses. 1001 Food critic: How do you return the food or food poisoning. 1002 Airline: A defective pilot crashes the plane. How do you return any of it? 1003.....seriously took me 5 minutes and a whole room of teachers couldn't come up with 1? On top of that the teachers want students to sit quietly and pay attention and they do this? I am not a squirrel or a tree but if I sit quietly and pay attention I can learn from both.
written by Josie , March 22, 2016
Unfortunately, some schools DO get to discard their "bruised fruit." These are private schools or academies that test you before you enter the door. If you measure up the standards you are then granted the "privilege” of giving them your money. Further, if you do not measure up the standard (2-3 failures in any semester) you are ejected (bad fruit). They don’t want you bringing down their ACT score average. Its got almost nothing to do with education. It’s all about teaching to the test. (SAT, ACT)
written by Connie , November 03, 2015
Here is a thought: Kids do not come as raw material. They are 5-7 years old when they start school and thus have been educated already. (Physical and/or mental illnesses/handicaps set aside for a moment). As much as we want to believe that we can shape them as teachers, me being a teacher as well, one scientific evidence suggests that a persons character is formed by the age of preschool and/or 1st grade. Greater efforts need to be made in improving homes and family life. Students that have been taught at home from a very young age that learning is valuable and desirable will do better. Students that come from a loving home where parents take time to check homework and participate in students activities do better. If we want to work with better "materials" - focus needs to be on the home.
written by william Brooks , February 24, 2015
I take exception to those of you who believe we cannot run a school like a business. We can and should, but the problem is the lack of accountability people accept for making poor decisions. i.e. a student doesn't do his /her work. They should fail the class. Mom and Dad demand they move on. The school system buckles under and guess what the student all of a sudden becomes a senior and they know virtually nothing. Because the school system doesn't stop the flow of bad product moving down the assembly line.
written by Back2basic , January 20, 2015
I appreciate all comments which reflect parents'and educators' conflict of foundation.

The main issue in Public Education is to provide all students with the same opportunity to learn how to appreciate kindness, how to exercise good judgment in sharing and caring for other sentient beings, and how to build self-esteem of being as sentient humans who treasure and preserve humanity, civility, and democracy at any cost.

Once, this foundation is solid, and then all other subjects will be automatically motivated to learn with dignity, pride and joy of learning. Back2basic
written by Kathy , November 11, 2014
I have read with interest all the comments & reactions. Many have articulated their ideas very well. As some one who spent her entire working career as a middle school teacher, I can relate to many of their thoughts. There isn't just one pat answer to solving the problems that exist in education today. There isn't one avenue to place the "blame" . Unquestionably, everyone wants all kids to succeed to the best of their ability; to be productive, contributing members of society. The question that remains is what is the best way to achieve this? I don't pretend to know all the answers! but I do have some thoughts. First, as someone said previously, policies that are to be implemented in the classroom need to at least have input from those who will be putting them into practice. Second, understand that although testing is sometimes a good measure of what kids know, it is not the ONLY kind that is effective. Third, children should be evaluated by people who know them and can see not only their potential, but also their growth. Our state standardized tests were sent to another state and rated by those who weren't even educators. "Training" sessions were offered for people interested in scoring them! No room there for growth recognition. The issue of parent involvement in schools and the benefit of that cannot be stressed enough. The baggage that children bring them with them from home everyday is enormous. Some come filled with excitement for a new day, while others shrink from it for a variety of reasons: no breakfast, no one at home when they leave for the day, poor hygiene, unfashionable or uncared for clothing (this means a lot to kids), an argument at home, no lunch or money to buy any. The list goes on and on and all of it affects success. Yes, schools need to be aware of what business needs - kids need to be prepared for the future. But first, it is imperative to know each child, their talents, their shortcomings, their interests, their fears, their goals, etc. it is EVERYONE'S responsibility. It is the future.
written by Jason , October 10, 2014
You are dead on. Unfortunately, our government needs to quit putting non-educators in charge of education. This includes the post of Secretary Of Education. If businesses want top education for their future employees, they need to remain separate from policy. whoever is put in charge of the DOE should always be from the pool of educators. Someone who knows the actual cost of educating all, not just a select handful. they should be experienced in the reasons why schools lose attendance, and realize that removing funding due to lack of numbers actually make matters worse, as does expecting small schools to combine to add up to their "perfect" numbers. Sadly, though, we live in a time where numbers are more important than actual fact. In creating businesses, in what some expect a school to accomplish, etc. And that is where we fail, because numbers tend to lie.
written by John Morrison , July 30, 2014
The analogy is correct: the students are the raw material. Who is the customer? The country. It needs an informed literate citizenry.
written by Tom Wolfgram , April 15, 2014
If I were held responsible for the quality of the output in a string of dependent events and the quality of the raw material was causing me excessive risk to high quality delivery. I would have no choice but to expand the total system to deal with the risk first things first, right the first time.
written by The Few Hurt the Many , March 26, 2014
Unfortunately some students, not all, but some ARE rotten fruit. The problem is not with the teachers it is with those select parents who don't really parent...they are shoddy farmers that give us rotten fruit. This affects all of the students and so the end result is lacking at times thanks to children who are not held accountable. They take time away that could be used to encourage and promote other students. Imagine what these other students could accomplish if teachers weren't distracted by the same students every day who's parents won't work with the school to get the behavior under control. If they want us to raise their children then they should not stop us from correcting them.
written by Carrie Moenster , March 05, 2014
I couldn't agree w/you more. Thank you for this. I give a copy of it to the Senators and House Reps that we lobby to about the abuse going on in public schools.
written by Jamie Vollmer , February 05, 2014
It has been quite some time since my encounter with the teacher in this story, but I know there was nothing in her words or her tone that in any way suggested that she thought that her students were "rotten". Different, yes. Rotten or inferior, no. Her point was that, unlike I who could choose my ingredients according to my preferences, public schools could not choose which children they were going to accept. Therefore, my "Run your schools like a business" pronouncement was ill informed, at best. Over the years it has become abundantly clear that anyone making such a recommendation has substituted free-market rhetoric for classroom reality.
written by Brent Bushey , February 03, 2014
Someone recommended that I read this story and I've got to say-- I'm really offended. A teacher actually compared rotten blueberries to students with exceptionalities and teachers were cheering? My daughter has Down Syndrome and I can tell you that she's not a rotten blueberry and I bristle at anyone that feels this is an apt analogy. I'll agree that schools aren't businesses-- in some important ways-- but this simple minded and offensive analogy doesn't strengthen anyone's argument.
written by Dave Eckstrom , January 07, 2014
@ scott from November. I'm glad your family has had a positive experience with Milwaukee's voucher system. However, the data is now pretty conclusive that you are the exception, not the rule. Most likely because you sound like a great parent. Milwaukee is the nation's largest and longest-running experiment with vouchers and it's just not yielding the expected results. Expanding this failing experiment is not an advisable course of action. Unfortunately your governor will take it, but for reasons that have nothing to do with educational outcomes.
written by Dave Eckstrom , January 07, 2014
As a scientist, I know that a hypothesis gains no validity as a theory until it has been subjected to testing. So here's a simple test for those on this forum (and anywhere else) who hypothesize that the problem with our educational system is the teachers' unions: Look up data on school performance in areas where there are strong teachers unions and other areas where teachers unions don't exist. If you see a strong correlation between strong unions and poor performance and no unions and good performance, your hypothesis is supported. Otherwise, you'll want to look for a different hypothesis. Ready? Go.
written by Teacher Red , October 23, 2013
The reality of teaching is that more than 50% of new, young, vibrant, well educated, youthful, excited teachers leave the profession within the first 5 years of accepting a position at a public school. And that number is rising. Some still want to teach, and they love children, but they soon realize it is not about shaping a young person's mind toward excellence but rather toward making a gain on a standadized test in April. The teachers that stay want ALL of their students to excell, and they try daily, but as many comments on this blog attest to, many students and parents don't care enough to try. The greatest problem is not the blueberries or the parents of the blueberries nor the teachers, but the owner of the blueberry farm, the politicians. They make all policies about school term, curriculum, standards, content, testing and number of tests (there's not just the one in April), teacher pay, and school operating budget. In other words, elected politicians whether it be local, state, or federal make all of the decisions about schools. They own the blueberry farm. This is the PROBLEM with education. All of these and other ingredients in the school systems are given to an elected government body that in many cases are wealthy and have no idea what most public school children and their parents' needs are. Furthermore, these elected officials have one goal in mind - to get reelected. Most will do or say whatever is necessary to win the next election. They don't think long term. My suggestion is to immediately get all public schools out of the possession of elected politicians, and put it in the hands of the professionals i.e. teachers and school administrators.The sad part is this will never happen. They won't let go of that power or money. Then let them run it similar to a business. You will see changes and improvements then. Teachers and school administrators want their students to do well and be successful in life. Otherwise they would leave teaching and do something else to make money and gain the respect they deserve. Believe me, they get very little of both.
written by Amazon , October 21, 2013
What a story! Just Amazing

Frandi Scharles Amazon

written by Christine , October 18, 2013
I think the point has been missed by many of the posters here. The reality is that if we use test scores to measure the effectiveness of education - then we have to consider the children as part of the product. Maybe blueberries wasn't the best metaphor - perhaps cream would have been more appropriate, as it's the main ingredient which makes the whole thing actually exist as ice cream. Education is not much different, teachers, texts, administrators, and curriculum do not equal education...unless you have students. Regardless of the metaphor - we cannot choose our students. We cannot send them back. We cannot merely tag them in quality control - and return them to the distributor. We still have to educate them regardless of their baggage, imperfections, challenges, and frustrations.

I love the blueberries - I spend my days with them. But teaching them cannot be compared to business (I also own a small business) - they are very, very different.
written by Scott , October 16, 2013
Most private schools take any child who can pay their bill. Their not turning away many unless the child is disruptive without any improvement or help from parents. The private schools who take tax funded vouchers in most cases still charge additional tuition and the schools here in Milwaukee that take the voucher with no additional charges are randomly selected or lottery based!! For those who say they get to turn kids away, I'd love to hear some stories about those voucher schools that hand pick and what criteria their using. I know a few poor minority single mothers who, first of all have a deep care and concern for their children and actively walk the walk by doing things to better their children. The sent them to a voucher school, set expectations for their children, held them accountable', and stayed in communication with the teacher. Their children have done well. I don't see how vouchers is not the best way to make change. I've heard the rebuttals but I think we can easily find solutions to the problems public school union teachers bring up. If I'm going to keep getting tax hikes, I'd rather have schools compete to earn my business and use my voucher to send my bright 10 yr old to the school I feel is best for them and my other voucher for my ADHD 7 year old to an inevitable voucher school that specializes in that and my 5 yr old with Down syndrome to a voucher school that excels in that challenge. Milwaukee is allocating about $9800 per child per year for education from tax revenue. So I know I'm being ignorant to some legit ate other costs like electricity and janitors, etc... But one teacher could make 39000 annually by accepting 4 special needs children?!? Ok I know I'm being a jerk but I also sit on the school board where my 7 yr old ADHD child goes to a private school that didn't turn her away, is doing a great job with her and annually receives about 450,000 from parents post tax dollars to educate 100 k-8 children. And those children have been thriving and it's been that way for 50 years. We need a voucher system for every child. Let schools compete and stop the waste. Those against it are scared. Seriously ponder how it would affect the final product of a 100 random kids in society. Many would benefit greater while the bottom 10 percent would in a worst case scenario end up the same as they are now. Most importantly, parents across this nation need to care about their children and the children's needs more than themselves and their own needs and take responsibility for the final product. I take full responsibity for educating my children and I view myself as their primary educator. I teach my kids writing, reading and arithmetic as well as behavior and societal expectations. I view the school system as just one of the tools at my disposal to assist in educating them and preparing them to be successful, but I take responsibility and teachers, public or private, are usually not even part of the problem if any, regarding our current failures in society. Most people go to work and try to excel, especially when their responsible for another humans future well being.... Whether their an educator like my wife or a healthcare worker such as myself. Unfortunately the loser parents who are failing their children will never read this comment or this article. Their off doing their think or watching their tv shows while their kids have been eating junk food and playing video games at jimmies house up the street for going on 5 hours now.
written by Late to the party , October 16, 2013
The problem with the analogy is that schools aren't supposed to be taking children and turning them into finished products to sell.

CHILDREN ARE THE CUSTOMERS. They should be there to receive a quality service from the school.

The teachers are the blueberries, and if they can't see that, then THEY are rotten and need to be ejected from the production line.
written by cigarbaron , October 16, 2013
what would happen if we unionized the Blueberry's?
written by Gladys , August 23, 2013
Getting parents involved. Getting parents to realize they are parents and they have children depending on them to take care of them. To realize they don't get to go out all the time they have children. Teachers can't do it all they need help from home. It is just like it was in the 1950. It's just now there are so many parents who are not responsible, don't care, don't want to be bothered, don't want to realize their children don't behave. Parents need to be parents and take their responsible serious. We have to many "Wimp" parents. Love your children and be there for them.
written by Theresa , August 14, 2013
My comment is we need to look @ each child. What school environment works best? It's NOT always one school fits all! Some children find their niche and excel in a big public school. Other children are more introverted & for those kids their needs might be better met in a more intimate setting like a private school. I've had my kids in both @ the same time (one child was in public school bc he liked it there; my other one hated it; felt lost but LOVED private school because he needed more nurturing). Does one out do the other? NO - but I believe we need to examine what type of schools we build & staff so that it is able to meet the needs of all students. Some kids have special needs and require addl care; Other kids get lost in the mega schools & become just a mere robot in the shuffle. No school is perfect - the challenge is to equip parents with the ability to find & locate a school environment that can meet their children's learning modality. I'll be blunt; as a parent of 4 (my kids range in age from 28 to 16); I've seen the good; the bad; the ugly. One year I had 4 children in 4 different schools (one in high school; one in middle school; one in elementary; one in preschool). It was a crazy year - but the one who suffered the most I think was my oldest because she got lost in a mega high school that housed 4,000 students. When did we start thinking mega schools are efficient at churning out our next business leaders & citizens? They're not. I've seen too many students get lost and grope to find their way. When did a school district that once worked iwth parents in setting up convenient times to house Parent Teacher Open House or PTA meetings (where most parents could get involved & attend). But now, they don't - they've stopped that too. Is it any wonder that it's now more challenging for school districts to get parents involved when the schools have abandoned the idea of "actually" working with parents (by having Parent Open Houses actually in the evening so working parents can attend? I'm so discouraged. I rc'd a good education. I remember evening events @ school that my parents attended. When my oldest 2 went through schools 10 years ago; there was more open communication bw parents & teachers; by now with my youngest 2; I feel like I'm constantly hitting a brick wall & scream in so much frustration.It's hard for me to find out what's going on at the school; the open house is at 5pm (difficult for me to get off work and make it home by then in this big city). I had one principal tell me that I should treat my child's education like his doctor appt and take time off work. I guess she didn't realize that my son's pediatrician & dentist have Saturday hours to accommodate a working parent's schedule (and believe me - I wouldn't go to a doctor who only operated M-F because I wouldn't want my child to miss school; much less me miss work). I left that parent meeting in tears & complained to district hqtrs but of course - they close rank & mediocrity continues.
written by roc , August 06, 2013
Well, not all businesses get to choose their raw materials. There are definitely business models that account for raw materials that are out of their control. The biggest thing I see is the sense of scope. While businesses usually do have long range goals, their existence depends entirely on short range profitability, because if they aren't profitable now (or at least, soon), they won't be around to reach those long range goals. Schools are exclusively long range endeavors. Kindergarteners are not expected to be "completed products" or "satisfied consumers" (depending on your metaphor)for 12 or more years. There are no models in the business world that look anything like this. "No child left behind" testing seems to be an attempt to make school look more like a business with short term goals, but in so doing, it's easy to lose sight of the important long term finished product.
written by chewinmule , July 28, 2013
Our system is based upon the assumption, popularly regarded as implicit in the doctrine of equality, that everybody is educable. This has been taken without question from the beginning; it is taken without question now. The whole structure of our system, the entire arrangement of its mechanics, testifies to this. Even our truant laws testify to it, for they are constructed with exclusive reference to school-age, not to school-ability.

"When we attempt to run this assumption back to the philosophical doctrine of equality, we cannot do it; it is not there, nothing like it is there. The philosophical doctrine of equality gives no more ground for the assumption that all men are educable than it does for the assumption that all men are six feet tall. We see at once, then, that it is not the philosophical doctrine of equality, but an utterly untenable popular perversion of it, that we find at the basis of our educational system."

Albert Jay Nock, The Theory of Education in the United States 1939

So, after all the money and "reform" we are still chasing John Dewey's "ideology"? Hmmmmmmmm.
written by Venette Cook , July 11, 2013
As a community college teacher, I would like to add that all learners, of every age, will not "produce positive results" when treated with a business model approach. Where I work, we have motivated, engaged students from diverse backgrounds, cultures, age groups and life/educational experiences. We even have some who are clearly fishing, reaching for better options with unclear goals, little skill and wavering motivation. We teach all comers as best we can.

As human beings, we grow and learn constantly. We humans do not seem to respond well when our individuality is not respected and at the same time, we hunger for learning and knowledge, and do better building our knowledge when we do so in a welcoming community. We long for experts to help us find wiser answers, but we also resent know-it-alls.

All schools, all students, all teachers, librarians and counselors need community support. All students deserve dignity. None of us are blueberries that should be sent back.

The profits we offer society are more valuable investments than even the best best best ice cream!
written by Gloria , July 09, 2013
I am a retired teacher and I recall the "Blueberry Story" from many years ago. The comment I remember then was not that "schools are not businesses" but that "children are not blueberries".

And of course that should be commen sense. In making a product like blueberry ice cream, of course, the intention is for there to be a consistent and reliable outcome. Every container of ice cream must have the exact same quality, in other words, or the business gets a reputation for sloppy production. And customers go elsewhere.

Well, of course, unique human beings can never fit the exact same size packaging. But that did not stop the Congress from voting to allow a law (NCLB) to be passed and signed by President Bush that demands by next spring that ALL children who take a standardized test mUST test "proficient". All the same outcome.

One size fits all may work for blueberry ice cream or Ford trucks or McDonald's French Fries, but it certainly does not apply to human beings, especially not developing children.

And that is the point of the story and the reason that such marketplace concepts as "competition," "value added assessment" or "economies of scale" will never apply to school.
written by Mike , June 26, 2013
I think this is illustrative of how isolated, insulated, and compartmentalized it seems the Institution of Education has become. Education happens continuously, it's not merely something that happens in a School House, with Professional Teachers. We have really short changed ourselves if that is what we think, and that is not meant to be a negative remark about Teachers. The formal Education Process was never meant to be the "be all, and end all." Schools reside in communities, the communities should be engaged in the education process, not politicians from afar. Community Leaders like the one depicted here could and seems to be gaining a lot from regular involvement with the local schools.
written by Repairman632 , June 22, 2013
Teachers in public schools not only cannot turn away any shipment of blueberries, they now have less and less say in the machinery and process used to transform them into a finished product. Charter schools have tremendous leeway in getting rid of blueberries they choose not to deal with, and those berries get sent back to public schools that must take them. In spite of this the ice cream the charters put out is often worse than the public school product. That's what happens when you chose short term profit and efficiency over long term quality. In the non free market of education, an oxymoron in and of itself either way, charters survive by being politically connected, like paying off the inspectors and ice cream review writers.
written by Victoria , June 06, 2013
The point is still valid, regardless of whether the children are customers or raw material. The real point she is making is that that it's about time the universe stopped blaming teachers for the entire outcome of a student's educational experience. There are more factors involved than "stick him on a production line and stamp him with the right mold and he will turn out just like all the others." One might think "no duh," when presented with this information, but apparently most politicians and business leaders are having trouble getting that concept.
written by Arizona Eagletarian , April 29, 2013
The way I see this "parable" applying to education reform debate is that pro-business types want to promote charter schools and vouchers for private schools. The problem with those ideas is that when we allow a charter or a publicly funded private school to turn away a shipment of blueberries, we no longer have a way to legitimately compare the quality of education at different schools.

When my children were in k-12 schools, I favored the charter school concept. However, I saw significant pitfalls during that time.

Now, I understand charter schools and publicly funded private schools as a right-wing mechanism to undermine public education in general and for many individual children and families in particular.

That's not a good thing for America.
written by John , March 14, 2013
Money is always at issue, regardless of the level of education that is under discussion. The reason being, schools are not just about the students and educators. There are administrators, attorneys, janitors, plumbers, electricians, brick layers, HVAC people, accountants and a host of other people involved in the educational process. "Business" related choices need to be made in the educational process. Money is a fact of life. Decisions regarding how money is spent in an educational system are all about "business." Also, the sub-standard blueberry example in the article is myopic and appears to me to be nothing more than a component of "blame game" thinking. Sure, students are not all "perfect." Parents do not provide "perfect" blueberries for teachers to turn into "perfect" ice cream. No work environment is "perfect." Bottom line, schools are "work environments" for teachers and all of the other people involved in creating a school environment in which students learn. In addition, schools are businesses. They take inputs to create outputs. How you measure the output of a given school is paramount to the entire discussion. Kids are not ice cream. However, they are an "output" in the educational process. It's really a question of "adding value" to what is "input" to the school system. The "output" of a school is a "business" related issue. The measure of those outputs can be seen in the general population. Unfortunately, the act of measuring those outputs is a nebulous task.
written by John , March 14, 2013
Sounds interesting from a philosophical standpoint. Also sounds like an attempt to delineate blame for the final product (or the added value to each child) of a school system. Is it the parents fault/responsibility? Is it the teachers fault/responsibility? Bottom line, you work with what you have available to you. Stop the blame game! Nobody has perfect working circumstances. Nobody delivers a perfect product.
written by Jillian , February 12, 2013
Mr. Vollmer,

Your example of your attitude in the beginning and our expressions as teachers was spot on. I am a Special Education teacher. My "blueberries" are special, squished, sick, and sometimes so mangled their unrecognizable. If someone told me I had to send them back because their weren't perfect I would have to argue. Who's defining perfect? To me and their families these are the finest "blueberries" in all the land. They might not make "award winning ice cream" but they make me feel like "award winning ice cream".

We are not only required to take every child and give them our very best we are asked to give a guarantee on our product when we test them and if they fail we are accountable. Even if the soil and pesticides had something to do with them not be award winning.

We as educators do what we can with what we have and pray for the best at times. What else can we do?
written by Judy , October 01, 2012
I have read it all... every word. I still am a firm believer that students can achieve at a level higher than most will try to achieve. I also believe that students are responsible for their own learning. If they are not hungry for the knowledge, they simply will not try to learn. There is always a motivator for everything in life... fear, money, greed, recognition, to please, to overcome, whatever. Students will go just as far as their motivator pushes them.
I also have experienced apathy in students so ruefully founded that I often wonder if the child was born with it or if, like science tells us, it is learned behavior. Many of my peers will complain of apathetic behaviors in students. I try to analyze motivators that may get the student to move forward with the learning. I can still count on my hand about 6 students that even I couldn't get figured out in my 16 years of teaching [so far}. That in my eyes is a pretty good return on the taxpayers money considering I have taught none less than 84 students in any given year and most have been well over 110. I do often think of my 6 failures. I wonder if I could have done anything differently to reach and motivate them to get hungry for the knowledge that I offered. After all, I do believe in no child left behind. I have come to the reality that these students are not behind at all... I did not fail to do the job I was asked by society to do. I raised the expectation and showed the child how to achieve and reach the goal. I also encouraged and led that student to the expectation. It was then time for the child to do their part, learn by the experience before them. I did all that I was asked to do, and more. The only thing left was to record the outcome in a way society would understand.
Does this make me a failure at what I do? "NO", not the way I see it. I think that it is my responsibility to give society the best next generation that is possible. If it takes a few a second chance around to get it figured out, get motivated to learn, than I have done my part to help deliver the best to our society.
We do have a choice in what we do, who we are, what we become and when all of this happens. It happens when we are motivated to make a change. Simple philosophy I know, but one that is as true as life itself.
written by Kathy , September 18, 2012
Oh, I wish you could advocate for our school libraries and express their value in Education even in today’s economy! In the past 5 years I have seen Teacher-Librarian positions drastically cut, our library budgets slashed and instruction time nonexistent. The most heartbreaking is the current thought in Administration that everything can be found Internet and libraries are no longer needed. But, if you look at the National Common Core Standards libraries is a key role in Education.
written by Expert , August 31, 2012

Gotta love how Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and posters here think they are EXPERTS on education, not ever having taught in a real school setting before. Why? Because they think that having attended public schools they must be education experts. You know, like I am an expert on aviation because I flew on a plane.

Absolving students and parents completely off the hook for their roles in student success is a primary reason we're in the predicament we're in. Kids running the house, doing what they want, coming and going as they please. Getting high, drunk, and pregnant. Playing Xbox til 3am, then getting up at 6:30am, wolfing down PopTarts and Monster Energy Drink, and showing up at school 40 minutes late. Yeah, that's the fault of the teachers' union.

It's all about no one ever feeling badly. Minimum marking period grades of 50 or 60. Unlimited retake opportunities. Free tutoring, school supplies, breakfast, and lunch, so nothing has value. Ever see a kid with a Blackberry and $130 blue jeans getting a free lunch?

Finland, largely regarded as one of the top public school systems in the world, has unionized teachers. And you know what? Any union's job is to look out for its members, to ensure they don't get screwed. Teachers and parents and administrators look out for students. And students have a duty to take responsibility for their own success: show up every day, on time, sober, and ready to learn; don't have sex on the bus or in the planetarium when the lights go out; turn off the &%^$ing phone, stop texting, and pay attention; don't deprive others of their education (in other words, STFU and stop disrupting class); make an effort; ask a question; use resources outside the classroom (the Internet has much more than free/pirated music).

Jeans sagging below backsides. Swear words every 3rd word. Reactive aggression. Sought conflict. Violent relationships. Drug use. Teen pregnancy. Failing grades. Issues with authority. Gang involvement. Bullying.

Too many kids think life is like "Jersey Shore". Many celebrate mediocrity or failure.

Yes, a good teacher finds ways to draw out ('educate' means draw out, NOT put in!) the best in students, but there's no magic wand.

One more thing: as a country, we now believe that every kid should go to a four-year college. Some dont' want to. Some would LOVE to leave traditional high school at sixteen and learn to be a mechanic, plumber, etc. Most other countries use tests and other means to split the herd at about age 14 (this is one reason our high school scores suck: our scores including EVERYONE; their scores include only college-bound), with college-prep being one route, trade/professional being another, and labor being a third.

written by Adam , August 30, 2012
Spend a day in a classroom...that's all I have to say. I have serious doubts that anyone who is saying negative things about schools has been in a public school classroom within the last 10 years or more. Nobody is perfect, teachers, students, parents, etc. Everyone plays a role here. I'm not saying that teachers are never to blame for making errors, but teachers are the only ones being held accountable for it. Let's say a student in high school just comes in a sits in the room...won't say a word...won't do any work...just sits there. They don't do their homework, don't study, and eventually fail. There may not be anything that a teacher can do about it, but they are held responsible for the lack of effort the student gives their education. In the same way, what if a student is truant and misses 1/3 of the school year (yes, this happens more than you would think!). How can the teacher be held responsible for having that student at the same level as everyone who was there for nearly the whole year (minus random sick days). There's a lot to this...look at the whole picture...and think about the information you are getting and who the source is.

Schools of today are not the schools of yesterday...they are not the same schools that you grew up with...neither are the teachers, the parents, or the students! If you want to understand the issues and make an educated comment...examine all of these first.
written by Kurt in the audience , August 14, 2012
It is probably time to close the government ice cream factory, and have private companies process blueberries. And make ice cream all year instead of only 9 months. And reward the best blueberry processing equipment; and enforce use of their successful blueberry techniques in other factories. And tie lifelong teacher retirement benefits to the lifelong success of the blueberries. Premium ice cream? I'd settle for blueberries that didn't have to go straight to the 'freezer' after dropping out of the factory. Funny that teachers and their unions constantly invoke quid-pro-quo for their benefit, but not for their student's benefit. A half century of declining scores is an empirical train wreck I lay at the teacher union's feet. Has any teacher uttered that America's founders were prayerful conservative free market 'community organizers' esteeming liberty over security, throwing off taxing tyrants?
written by Kurt in the audience , August 14, 2012
Our problem is not blueberries, but the defective processing equipment that reliably, religiously, slothfully, politically spoils our sweet blueberries. Mr. Vollmer and the rest of us should disconnect, replace, and push defective ice cream making equipment to the curb - and their corrupt union. Who said it better than AFT's leader to the [Customer's] Secretary of Education: We'll start caring about [blueberries] when [blueberries] start paying union dues..." Gag me. Shame on teachers' unions. PS - I salvage the reject blueberries. So do you, if you haven't figured it out yet. Would that I could junk the faulty blueberry handling equipment the teacher unions so adamantly sustain. America pays a different kind of 'union dues' - for massive blueberry salvage operations and the global opportunity cost of brilliant blueberries dropped through the cracks.
written by Troy , July 22, 2012

I think you missed a great opportunity, to talk about "How to make change". How to make a bad situation into sweat sugar. Yes, bad blueberrys do show up but student unlike blueberrys could be helped. The School system is that help. Sometimes teacher need tools, and computer are becoming that tool. Each student needs help and computers could be that help. I would like to talk to you about a project i'm working on.
written by Michel Lowak , June 25, 2012
From my point of view Mr. Vollmer is not right when he compares the situation of business and education in schools like that. Teachers are not making ice cream out of young humans (in their role as pupils). The ice cream they produce has to be eaten by them. Who says, that the blueberrys are the pupils and not the teacher? Surely every child is a part of a teaching lesson but do you really think that an analogy that differentiates into good and bad raw materials is adequate for the situation we have in schools? Don't you think that you should speak of making only the best out of every single young human and of invigorating him or her to do so? There are many ingredients that define the quality of an ice cream and this ice cream is a product that we deliver to the pupils and not sth that me make out of them. So, from my point of view school is a business by all means.
written by Terry Cecil Elliott , June 24, 2012
What a horrible idea. Using schools as a sorting mechanism. Oh, wait a minute that's what they do...even though they haven't a clue as to what they are sorting or how they figured out that one person is jam and the other set for pies. I agree with the analogy--they all get processed and sent out into the food chain to be eaten.
written by Jamie Vollmer , June 07, 2012
Thanks for your comment. I appreciate the time and thought you invested in making this stream lively.

I cannot speak for the teacher who raised the blueberry issue, but I have a feeling that she would maintain that her comments remain valid. In your variation on her analogy, she might say that she had no control over the quality of the bushes, which were four or five years old by the time they were delivered to the nursery. Not only that, the nursery persons are not the only influences on the bushes and the berries they produce. In fact, they are not even the primary tenders of the plants. Children spend much more time with their parents, siblings, friends, and TV than they do with their teachers. The average child spends less than 30% of his or her waking life in school. If you were the nursery person, imagine how you would feel if you were held ultimately responsible for the quality of the berries, when every day at 4:00, after you went home, other people entered the field and administered heavy doses of noxious potions and foul water to some of the bushes.

Besides, she was not trying to duck responsibility for results. She was protesting my "just run it like a business" mentality. She was pushing back against the notion that schools, alone, were responsible for teaching all children to high levels when they, unlike I, had no control over the "raw material."

And finally, I love your thoughts about developing the berries to their highest level of readiness depending on their ultimate purpose - jam, juice, pies, salads, etc. That idea conforms to real life. Unfortunately, the teacher and I both know that the current testing regime is forcing all nursery persons to prepare all blueberry bushes to produce the same fruit that meets a single narrow standard.

Thanks again.
written by Kevin , June 07, 2012
I believe both the ice cream manufacturer and teacher are wrong. You can’t do anything with a blueberry to change it. Once it is picked, that is it. It is already as it is except use it. You can’t make it juicier, sweeter, riper… Therefore I believe both the ice cream manufacturer and teacher are wrong. They both only are looking at the final product, the fact a berry is there. How that berry get there is the story.

I believe the kids are the bushes the berries grow on. If you look at the school system as a blueberry farm, you want your farm to make the blueberry bushes the best and most productive it can be to produce the best berries so those berries can be used to make the best products (contribution to society).

In this analogy, a nursery-person working a row of bushes is a teacher with a class room of students. The berries are what the kid contributes to society.

The blueberry bush is very expensive, once planted you cannot throw them away or cut them down.

As a nursery-person, they nurture the bushes every season by watering them, fertilizing them, trimming the bush so it can produce the best berries it possibly can. Some bushes will just produce better berries than others, some sweeter, some juicier, some tastier, some bushes ripen earlier than others, but the nursery-person must be able to adapt his/her cultivation methods to the changing seasons and weather; sometimes you need to trim more, sometimes water more, but you have to be able to treat each bush based on what ingredients it needs to flourish. Sometime you need to look at creative ways at getting a bush to produce nicer berries.

If the nursery-person does the same thing to every bush every year without ever adapting to changing conditions, the yield is the same every year; good, bad or a mixture. The best farmer will hire the best nursery-persons based on the results of yearly yield of berries. Those nursery-persons whose bushes continually look withered and do not produce good berries and have poor yields, then that farmer needs to be able to get a new nursery person that will do a better job of cultivating that row of bushes to get a better yield.

Once the berries are produced then the sweet ones can be used in jams, the juicier ones for fruit juices, the large ones for salads, the bitter ones for medicines. The ice cream maker than select the type of berry he wants to use based on his evaluation of the entire crop. The jam maker can select his berries to make his jam the best, the juice maker can select the berries best for his product… etc.
written by Dwayne , May 09, 2012
A college professor I worked with recently shared a lesson where two teacher were given a group of students. One was told in his/her class are some of the brightest minds in the school. The teacher was thrilled to have a class full of the best students. The other teacher was told the students in his/her class were educationally challenged. The reality is both classes contained students with equal skills as they were randomly picked. The teacher that "thought" he/she was teaching to the brightest kids got much better student results. The other teacher had significantly worse student results.

As far as I'm concerned, this simple study comparing two classrooms debunks the idea of this cute blueberry story. Teachers do not want to be accountable for their job and hide behind the unions and the notion that so much is out of their control. I do agree that family needs to be re-prioritized to help in the quality of kids delivered to the classrooms. However, I recall some of my peers that came from rough upbringings turning out to be some of the most successful in school and beyond.

This story did not sell me on the notion that I need to constantly support more spending on public education and out of control bureaucrats that lie to us at every opportunity.

I've seen it up close and personal. The schools are very mismanaged. The kids are exceptional!! Even the ones given the fake ADHD label!
written by Helen , May 03, 2012
Nearly every day I remind myself of why I do volunteer work with moms and their babies (and even better if I get them when they are pregnant). I want to get in on the ground floor, to help parents produce the best "blueberries" going, by showing them how to feed and nurture their babies. There is no denying that breastmilk provides the building blocks for normal (and sometimes better) growth and development. And breastfeeding builds a connection between mom and baby that lasts a lifetime. So by showing women how to breastfeed their babies, and respond to their babies as individual little people, I believe I am helping women and their partners to understand their babies and parent them kindly, being guided by the babies' cues. Formula (artificial baby milk, termed "industrial milk" by the French)is a man-made product that provides inferior building blocks to little people. Babies are adaptable, they'll grow on just about anything. But why put them in that position? And why put them in the position of being raised more distantly than some people's golden retrievers, in a distant and formulaic way, harshly, with little understanding of who they are? This is a big part of the problem that I see in children not being ready to benefit from public schooling. Of course parents are not at fault here. If they were, I could have spent my life volunteering for the Humane Society, because there would be so much support for breastfeeding and parenting, and mothers that there would be no need for me. But our culture is all about the bottom line, and truly supporting parents as they do a really tough, 24/7 job that never ends is just costs too much. It's easier to complain that parents don't teach kids manners, or to pay attention, or how to learn. Without an attached relationship, how would they even know how to help their children in those ways, and why would they care? After all, isn't that what day cares and schools are for?
I'm going to stick with moms and little babies--more bang for the buck there, one mom at a time. When women are able to actually enjoy being around their babies, and understand them, and that closeness just ripples out and touches everyone.
written by Cornelius@ofstedwatch , April 04, 2012
I have used your story to write an article on my blog about the workings of the UK federal public schools' inspectorate called 'Ofsted.

In the UK the performance of schools is increasingly being judged by how well students perform in national tests and exams- irrespective of the quality of the blueberries! If Ofsted judges a school to be substandard after inspecting it, the politicians get their chance to turn the public school into a charter school (we call them 'academies') There is more than a suspicion that Ofsted inspect some schools deliberately harshly to facilitate conversion to charter status!
written by Dr. B , March 30, 2012
What is the "final product"? Is it the growth of the student from September to June? Is it the intellect of the student measured by the state assessments in April? Or is it something else? Who is responsible for preparing the students for this "final assessment"? The parents? The teachers? The student him/herself? Who? Is there any accountability for parenting? If so, when does it occur and who conducts the assessment?
written by Jamie Vollmer , March 06, 2012

I agree with your analysis, with a caveat. In the case of our schools, the regulators (politicians and bureaucrats)not only "spec" the raw material, they define the parameters of the finished product. Requiring the schools to take all children and then demanding that they produce excellence or "proficiency" across the board in a system that was specifically designed to produce proficiency only in some (top 35%) puts the educators in an untenable position. If your response is "Well then change the system," I couldn't agree more. Everything I promote in The Great Conversation is intended to help schools make this change.

Thanks for your message.
written by Will Peavy , March 06, 2012
A business case analogous to the "we take them all" argument would be if the regulatory environment changed so that ice cream businesses were required to take all blueberry shipments. A good business person would immediately start working on how use this regulatory constraint to their advantage.
written by Michael , January 31, 2012
(Pardon the over-analogizing, but it works for me)
I appreciate what Michelle wrote in November. This really IS multi-faceted! There are definitely some issues within the schools that must be addressed-ineffective teachers, a system that encourages teachers to teach to a test (No Child Left Behind mandates) and squeezes out time for creativity and individuality, and a growing number of parents who see school as a "drop off whenever" daycare AND the means to "fix" their kid at the same time. And don't forget the lawyer/businesswoman/automechanic/salesman/stay-at-home parent/politician/salesclerk who are all education experts by virtue of going through the system 20 years before and aren't one bit shy about sharing their opinions on how to improve the profession. There are many interests here and lots of opinions on who is at fault.
The "Growers" (parents), the Factory (school), and the Consumers (college & businesses) can't forget that our "blueberries" aren't statistics, they are individual kids who come with their own needs and talents that the factory isn't prepared for. If a peach shows up at the door instead of a blueberry, then what? Some folks (parents, teachers & businesses) are expecting that a school cranks out its "blueberry ice cream" spring after spring when we've got peaches, apples, oranges, bananas and everything else under the sun coming into our factories. Some teachers and administrators refuse to see anything *but* blueberries. Some businesses can't understand why the "product" isn't improving year after year when they don't stop to realize that the raw materials themselves are different than they were 20 years ago. The system AND expectations need to change. We aren't just dealing with blueberries anymore, we really do take them all. The gifted graphic designer was likely the daydreamer who doodled on her math assignments back in 7th grade. The successful entrepreneur may well have been the 3rd grade kid with ADHD that made his teachers absolutely crazy with his inability to focus, he but now surrounds himself with people that can keep him organized and deal with the less important day-to-day stuff in his world. We aren't very well prepared for these kinds of kids who grow up to be successful adults. Think of how much more successful they could be if schools and expectations were more in tune with their reality?
written by Luke , January 22, 2012
Great article. As a business owner, I appreciate the experience of trying to apply business practices to education. Some will work but much will not.

To add to this discussion, I would say the businesses may control the ingredients, but usually don't control the customer. Customers come and go and we have to satisfy them or die.

I would propose that in education, the customer is not what's been discussed here. The real customer is the next teacher. Teachers are essentially developing students to be consumed by their customer: the next teacher. Teachers are the primary beneficiaries of good teaching and the primary victims of bad teaching.

We need to build a culture where the teaching profession recognizes that it's in their best interest to have great teachers on their team, and if there are mediocre teachers, they need to replace them with great candidates on the sidelines. There's no loss of headcount but good teachers decrease the burden on the students' next teacher.

I recently blogged about this with my work related to the Faifax County, Virginia school system's attempt to revise the teacher performance evaluation system: http://www.fmsinc.com/blog/pos...hools.aspx
written by Lisa , January 10, 2012
I'm not a teacher, I'm a parent and have volunteered in a school as a librarian. I saw all of the different children that came to school everyday and what I observed was behaviors. Some children had manners, others didn't. I believe a big part of what is missing is politeness and caring for your fellow students. Our son has AD/HD, biopolar disorder and a touch of Aspbergers and he attends public High School. The anti-bullying program that the school claims to have isn't working. He will come home so angry and hurt some days because of someone saying something hurtful to him. I find that very sad.. it's gotten worse over the years thus the need for anti-bullying policies. I just think if Ms. Manners got a hold of our children things might be different!
written by Michelle , November 17, 2011
I have to respond to the comment made by John in June, who said, "The quality of the "ingredients" is a factor, but businesses typically work with the hand they're dealt and focus on outcomes." This was one of those comments that made me say "hmmmm." I have worked in the corporate world and remember well that businesses dealt with their "hands" by laying off those who did not do their job well. Schools do not have that option. Schools are not able to choose what type of students they will work with every day. Schools are not able to choose which parents they get to work with. Students walk into a school, many carrying emotional baggage, and (most) teachers embrace them and work hard to help the student succeed - with or without the support of the parent. The bottom line is that schools and businesses ARE very different, and businessmen and women (and in most cases, politicians who haven't spent more than 15 minutes in a school since they were actually enrolled), should not be who makes educational policies. No Child Left Behind? I work in a Title I school and I can tell you that many children will most definitely be left behind. Not because of incompetent teachers (of which there are few, but definitely not the norm in most school divisions). They will be left behind because men and women in suits are trying to fit all children into a neat little box. IEP (Individualized Educational Plan)? Not any more. Most schools are going to collaborative classrooms, which works well for some children who have learning disabilities, but it does NOT work for all students with learning disabilities and/or emotional disabilities. Yet, that is where they are placed. What about the children on the autism spectrum who disrupt the entire classroom of students? We all know the child with autism is not at fault for those behaviors, but are those students getting an appropriate education? Is the child with autism who is sitting in a "regular" classroom getting what he or she needs to help them succeed in the world when the teacher has not been trained to handle those behaviors? And let's not forget the child diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder, who's parents have given up on him or her because they are so frustrated with the behaviors. Yet, that student sits in a "regular" classroom, disrespecting students and teachers daily, refusing to do their work, and in some cases throw chairs/desks. When is our society going to say enough is enough? We all need to work together to make changes to our educational system. Input from effective teachers is the most valuable input we can use, yet teachers have no voice in changing policy. There are "professional organizations" teachers can join, but what do they really get done on capitol hill? Policy makers need to spend DAYS in schools, not just minutes for photo ops to show they have been there. I apologize for my lack of organization of this comment, but there are SO many facets to this issue, it is difficult to narrow it down. What I know for sure is: we need someone in a position of power to step up and really dig into these issues, with input from teachers, and fix our broken system.
written by Danika , October 27, 2011
I am tired of people who place blame solely upon teachers. My students who have learned how to behave in a group, listen, and who are respectful are usually those who earn higher scores. The students who don't earn higher scores aren't less intelligent--they have not learned the social skills from their families which they need in order to succeed. If there are families who are struggling, community remediation programs to help them learn how to succeed should be mandatory. I don't mind providing some counseling and support to students, but when I have many students which such needs, it starts to become too much for one teacher to handle, and students with emotional and social problems ultimately take away lesson time for personal needs, and often help to reduce the quality of the lesson for other students around them. My students who have parents at home who care, support them and check up on them are the students who ultimately succeed--and it's my fault if the others don't succeed?
written by Jamie Vollmer , September 19, 2011
Thanks for taking the time to leave a thoughtful and polite comment. I have two thoughts. First, the teacher was specifically responding to my assertion that we would get the graduates we need if we would just "run our schools like a business." In raising the issue of the quality/readiness of the "raw material" she was attempting to draw a comparison between the control I had and the control she had in order to make the discrete point that a school is not a business. At no point did I suspect that she was whining or trying to shirk her responsibility for preparing all her students to succeed. Second, given the number of people - many of them in high places - who regularly and blindly attack "the teaching body as a whole," I have no problem countering their accusations, from time to time, with blanket support.
written by Brian , September 19, 2011
I was disappointed when I saw this story posted by our School Committee. Better than 30% of the teachers in our school system simply repeat what they have done in previous years. They use the same handouts, the same quizzes and tests and some even provide study guides that exactly mirror the test that are then given. This is not teaching. This is tasked-based short-term memorization, not learning. Educating is not and cannot be a perfunctory series of actions. I have no issue supporting educators who understand what it means to teach. They don’t whine about the diversity in the classroom, they embrace it as a challenge as it is this diversity that makes the job interesting and worth doing. I was disappointed to see this posted by our School Committee because to me it exemplifies a blind support for the teaching body as whole, a throwing up of the hands to say, “Here look, it’s not our teachers that are the problem, the problem is all the ‘blueberries’ we have to take.” Imagine for a moment what healthcare would be like if inabilities of the medical profession could simply be blamed on the diversity of its patients – and your doctor had tenure so had no choice!
written by Willa Lance , September 18, 2011
I agree with everything you have said and love the 'Blueberry Story'. The general public including most politicians (those that make much of the educational policies) do not realize how difficult it is to do an excellent job of teaching. Teachers hands are often tied by school (district) policies such as: NCLB (constant testing and teaching to the test), Pacing charts, grading and promotion policies, required data collections and other paper work, required club sponsorships, excessive student absences, increasing class sizes, and constant meetings and other required evening school functions. Oh yes, I almost forgot the lack of supplies and materials we either purchase ourselves or do without. I chose retirement and teaching overseas because I still love children and teaching, just not in the US.
written by Brenda Logan , September 17, 2011
What I bring to the table is another point of view based on our child’s schooling experiences and how our family had to mediate and use resources outside of the public system to resolve lacks and gaps in educating. This is offered in good faith and based on the public perception that schools do teach reading and cursive writing to every student and do have an expectation of proficiency and do have the ability to differentiate between inabilities and disabilities. I feel confident that ‘A Students Challenge’ can work to bring about the types of open comprehensive introspection people expect from a public system should ‘rules’ regress to the point where organization culture or philosophy is restricting or is what may be holding students back, influencing learning, experiences and outcomes whether the child is gifted, regular or special education and regardless of circumstance. Even one child, who becomes overwhelmed because of ‘rule’ is one too many. How did I come into the school able, willing and did to learn to read and write early grades and yet I began to struggle due to deteriorating literacy levels? Why are so many individuals leaving their schooling years unable to read and write well? Consider for a moment that poor literacy is not a Special Education issue but rather a Specific Education issue. Perhaps it is nothing more than our perceptions that are preventing progress, for example, let us agree that students who (begin to) struggle are not ‘at risk’ because of a precondition but were put ‘at risk’ by the system they trust and depend on to teach them to read and write proficiently until they leave the school. If you are open to this mind set, it could transform Improvement plans instantly; make the process more sensitive and reliable and new initiatives would take us in the right direction. .
written by susan martin , August 30, 2011
We are definitely dealing with a different generation and we can not always teach the way we were taught. Today's students are tomorrow's adults and whatever they receive in today's teachings will reflect on them once they leave the school systems. Those of us who have our hearts and souls in education, stay! Those who do not, move on down the line!
written by Jamie Vollmer , August 12, 2011
Your comment is thoughtful, well written, and right on target. My book, Schools Cannot Do It Alone, speaks to the issue you raise, but your passion and eloquence surpass mine. Thanks.
written by Byron , August 11, 2011
If Mr. Vollmer’s blueberry inspector’s had the choice to turn away raw product due to a varying degree of poor quality, be it small berry size, over fertilized fruit, excessive handling and bruising, he has the ability to go back to the original vendor with his complaints. Most likely if that wholesaler or grower wants to be a part of the “best ice cream” business, they will make the necessary changes to produce a better product. This allows Mr. Vollmer’s company to have increase competition, lowering production costs, increasing the volume of blueberry ice cream from less raw material, and satisfying the demands of the market expectations for a great product.
Yet, unfortunately our species chooses to nurture our young with a lack of education on how to develop robust and prime products. Why isn’t there a class offered in any educational setting besides perhaps a rehabilitation or night school environment on how to be a loving and nurturing parent? We all know that all parents are not innately caring for their offspring, hence many of the tragic circumstances our youth develop in. We as a society need to plant the seeds of a “blueberry” bush in a soil that is ph balanced with proper feeding and nurture. We need to prune the offshoots and protect the plant itself from outside danger and negative influences. We should observe the growth patterns, reflect upon prior learned knowledge of cultivation, and enhance the positive growth of flowers. With dedication and patience, the small berries that form will develop into robust and awe-inspiring berries, ripe for the picking and handling of the next partner in producing the “finest” blueberry ice cream. As the berries are handled carefully and delivered to their next stage of development into ice cream, the producer hopes to sell their product to a customer who will value their efforts and utilize their fruit for a delicious and tasty product.
This is all before our children get to school. The human brain has two major “parings” of brain cells and mapping of connections during its development between the ages of 1-3 and during the teenage years. Doesn’t make sense that the development of this mapping that occurs while the child is primarily in a care giver situation should be “fertilized” and “nurtured” for optimum growth?
The properly grown blueberry bush is not neglected. It is cared for over the years of its life a blueberry bush can live up to 60 years! With proper care it will continue to produce the delectable fruit we all know and love. Isn’t that what a parent should do? Isn’t the primary responsibility of a parent to help their offspring grow to be healthy and independent; disease resistant and viable for their own healthy future offspring?
The teachers who eventually receive the blueberries are going to do the best they can to produce a quality product from what raw materials they have been given. Most definitely there are educators, school administrators, and school employees who should consider other professions as their attitudes are negative and their instructional skillsets are poor. Yet, the majority of teachers out there will do what’s right with support from the parents. They will foster positive growth in children when the village raises the child.
The education system needs re-vamping. Yet, it is not just the responsibility of the schools to do so. It is a community, a societal effort that brings forth necessary transitions. Criticism has its place yet honesty and reflection of one’s role in raising/teaching children is the first step. Then, with collaboration for a common, realistic set of goals, we will see a transformation of our children into healthy and contributing members of our society.
I am not sure what Mr. Vollmer has written other than what’s on this webpage, but I thought I put in my two cents, as a parent, teacher, and school administrator.
written by caldude , July 11, 2011
Do not confuse inferior kids with the inability to address kids that demand more resources than whats available. Very big difference people. If the 5 kids that shut down my mom's science class nearly every day were removed and placed in a class that could cater to their behavioral challenges and their lack of reading skill then my mother could teach far more interesting science labs that simply do not work with 5 kids that do not belong in her class. Teachers do not have the ability to remove kids that should simply not be there. The schools have no ability to house the kids that need to be held back - that need special attention paid to their basic skills. As a result you dilute the class room and get kids who do not succeed that other wise could succeed if they were given the chance to develop their skills.
written by John , June 18, 2011
Blueberries go into the ice cream as they come in to the factory; there's no value added.

The quality of the "ingredients" is a factor, but businesses typically work with the hand they're dealt and focus on outcomes.
written by Jamie Vollmer , June 08, 2011
Besides the venue (Denison, IA) and the teacher's name (I have no idea), what else would you like to know?
written by Me , June 08, 2011
I couldn't care less who the blueberries are. I'd like to hear some specifics. Where was this auditorium? Who was the teacher with the one raised eyebrow? It's a nice story, but all I see is one guy making a name for himself, and probably an awful lot of money, telling people what they want to hear. I'm always skeptical when I see that.
written by Aredee , May 18, 2011
Very thoughtful presentation--I'm passing it on.
written by Shasta Bade , May 03, 2011
I got goosebumps reading that. I am so glad that the teacher spoke up. In the story, she did not seem rude at all, but I could see how upset she was. Jamie Vollmer was correct that the hostility and lack of willingness to change is a problem I see in my district as well. But children have to be treated on an individual basis because they are not all the same. Take the different learning styles, all three are best for some, but not for all. Some children are auditory learners, some are visual learners, and then there are the kinesic learners. To reach all of these children, you have to present the material in multiple ways. This is not just aimed at special education teachers, but all kinds of teachers. AS for the blueberries, when you get a bad batch, add more sugar. When I get a harder student, I give them more care and time. Nothing is really a bad bunch, they just need adjustments to the recipe.
written by Chris , April 17, 2011
Great article! But, the sad part is there are still some readers who continue to miss the point. Teaching a child and running a business are two completely different challenges. It takes a special kind of person for each challenge. I doubt very seriously that the teacher could become a successful CEO even in a couple of years. And, vice versa, the CEO could not become a successful teacher in the same period of time. When will society ever understand this?
written by Sharyl , April 16, 2011
It isn't just what children come to school with when the beginning kindergarten, it is the support and guidance they recieve as they progress in school. I have heard "How important is this vocabulary? It' too hard." "My child has a personal life," as a reason for not studying. "My child's summer is my child's summer. I am not making them do summer reading/review work," in response to summer review work. Do parents expect less of their children? Or as some of the high school students told me, "It's a D...I'm passing; that's good enough."
Do these attitudes reflect the community? Can teachers REALLY make changes on their own?
Vollmer's statement, "For the most important thing I have learned is that schools reflect the attitudes, beliefs and health of the communities they serve, and therefore, to improve public education means more than changing our schools, it means changing America." really hits the nail on the head.
written by Lois , April 01, 2011
The teacher was right. I taught first and second graders for thirty-one years and loved everyone of them. They did not all come into school ready to learn and they did not learn in the same manner. If you haven't walked in a teacher's shoes, you have no idea of the joy, or heartache they experience.
written by Ted , March 31, 2011
The story is brief, but it makes its point. Just because a kid is not amazing, popular, astounding, and makes-teacher-faint-with-ecstasy-brilliant doesn't mean that kid is dumb. That same kid could be very smart in a subject not covered at his grade level. All kids are amazing at something, even those with disabilities, and they all need to be taught at the learning level they are at. High stakes NCLB testing and busywork home assignments force all children to be at the same level. Not okay. In the words of Joe. E. Brown at the end of "Some Like It Hot"

"Nobody is perfect"

Not even students
written by Ann , March 30, 2011
I disagree Michael - I think she got it right because children are not a lump of raw material when they enter school. The are either well on their way to becoming a work of art because they have been nurtured by their first teachers (their parents) or they are still mostly undeveloped due to the neglect of their parents/caregivers or maybe they just have challenges that others do not. I am a kindergarten teacher and even kids who enter school at my level are widely different in their development and preparation. Upon entering school, kids are not blank slates - they are not containers waiting to be filled. They have been developing for 4 or 5 years before they start formal schooling at my level. To a certain extent you are correct that the teacher and the tools available to him/her can make a great difference to a child, however, sometimes the growth achieved is not enough for those who expect all kids to be the same and meet the same standards. All of my students grow and improve throughout the year - some to a great extent. However, not all are able to make the leap from being far behind developmentally and academically to being on grade level even though they improve. The point being made about the blueberries is that children are not all the same - they do not start out in the same place when they start school, they do not all have the same needs, and comparing them is like comparing apples to oranges - yet that is how they are expected to be assessed and taught - as if they are all apples (or perfect blueberries).
written by Michael , March 30, 2011
I think the teacher had it wrong. The children are not the ingredients like the blue berries. They are a lump of raw material that the teachers will turn into the final product. How well that final product turns out is due to a large part on how skilled the teachers are and what tools are available to them. The skills of the teachers and tools available are the key to turning out educated children. Schools do need to change. We need to keep the craftsmen and remove those that either don't have the skills needed or don't care about the final product.
written by Brian , March 30, 2011
[A careful reading of the teachers comment reveals that] she asked about inferior blueberries, not inferior children, and noted that schools instead do take and educate all kids....
“That’s right!” she barked, “and we can never send back our blueberries. We take them big, small, rich, poor, gifted, exceptional, abused, frightened, confident, homeless, rude, and brilliant. We take them with ADHD, junior rheumatoid arthritis, and English as their second language. We take them all! Every one! And that, Mr. Vollmer, is why it’s not a business. It’s school!”

written by cindy , March 27, 2011
The problem I see in the teachers comment, is the judgement it implies on deciding that kids are inferior. The kids that I have seen, who have been deemed "inferior" by public school " judges " have been brilliant. The teachers have protection for what some judge may determine to be a inferior teacher, but kids..... they are at the mercy of the system. When the system judges them " an inferior" piece of raw material.... they are tagged with that label for ever, and the saddest part..... even the child soon believes it too.....

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