What Does Taco Bell NOT Have to Do With Education?

While there are a few lessons I think the education system could learn from my Leadership, Entrepreneurship and Learning course's case study of Taco Bell from 1983 - 1999, there are definitely some parallels that should be avoided. While the changes implemented by then-CEO John Martin helped transform Taco Bell from a regional restaurant to a global brand, they don't all fit so well with the education.

The first is Taco Bell's shift from a made to order production model toward assembly line and eventually pre-made production. Translating this to education is a scary thought, and unfortunately not that difficult to imagine in schools today. Schooling in the original 'made to order' model would be truly differentiated, focused on the needs and preferences of individual students. Schooling that follows the current Taco Bell would be prepackaged in order to maximize efficiency over all else. Looking back on the number of Kaplan, Harcourt, Scholastic and Mcgraw-Hill products my schools used during my teaching, it's easy to say that education has adopted this model already, and not to the benefit of students or teachers.

Another problem with the Taco Bell model would be Martin's decision to start hiring managers from outside the fast food industry. Martin started looking to MBA programs with a focus on leadership skills, then worked to acclimate these individuals to the fast food industry through their orientation. Within education, I see this trend already occurring, and I find it troubling.

While a lot of people, including some of my classmates at HGSE, believe education needs "true leadership" regardless of background, I reject this argument. Cathie Black may be too easy a target, but I think her short tenure illustrates the dangers of putting a leader in place with no understanding of the day to day work of teaching and learning. Schooling cannot be understood as easily as a Taco Bell kitchen, and to put someone in charge of this work without real appreciation for the complexity of it is a risky idea.

There are a lot of lessons that can be learned by educators from outside the system. But analogies always have their limits. Unfortunately it seems like education today has more negative parallels with Taco Bell than positive.


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