Can Big Macs End The Achievement Plateau?
Bad for cholesterol, good for curriculum.
In the summer of 1967, McDonald’s franchisee Jim Deligatti was testing out a new burger at his McDonald’s location in Ross Township, PA.
Deligatti wanted a new product to compete with the Big Boy, a burger served by the eponymous Big Boy Restaurants, at the time one of the most popular restaurant chains.
Deligatti’s tinkering resulted in the Big Mac: Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions – on a sesame seed bun, as the jingle goes. He started selling it at his Uniontown, PA location shortly thereafter.
The burger was such a hit that McDonald’s added it to the menu of all its locations the following year. By 1993, McDonald’s had sold over 14 billion Big Macs, helping it become, at the time, the largest and most successful restaurant franchise in history.
Franchises are interesting analogs for public education. In many ways, districts run a large franchise operation, with anywhere from a few locations to upwards of several hundred locations all operating under the direction of a central office — corporate headquarters.
Franchise restaurants offer the benefit of uniformity: we can walk into almost any McDonald’s location and expect a similar atmosphere and food quality.zThe same isn’t always true of schools. Scan through the “School Progress Reports” of the several hundred schools in Philadelphia (mine is under “Ziegler”) and you’ll see a wide variety of quality. Visit the schools and you’d see the same: schools less than a mile a part use different phonics curriculum, different climate systems, and even have different dress codes.
I imagine that few current McDonald’s franchisees are tinkering with new recipes that might eventually be universally adopted. As organizations grow, uniformity helps supply chains run efficiently. New products or practices almost always come from corporate headquarters — or at least require corporate approval — before being sold in restaurants.
As school districts push increasingly towards uniformity, I wonder if they might adopt the 1960s McDonald’s approach to franchising: allowing schools and teachers to test out innovative ideas rather than taking a hardline stance on making every school and classroom look exactly the same.
Deligatti’s invention of the Big Mac could be especially instructive when it comes to curriculum implementation. The current approach in many districts seems to be ensuring uniformity — often called “implementation with fidelity” — at the expense of educator innovation.
That might be fine if we want to recruit a workforce of principals and teachers who know their job is simply to reheat and serve frozen curriculum, but I’m not sure it’s why most educators signed up for the work.
In that sense, uniformity can also be a bad thing: Big Macs may taste the same all over the world, but that doesn’t make me any more likely to eat one.
Ideally, districts serve a menu that adheres to some level of consistency across its many franchised schools while also celebrating innovations that can be scaled across classrooms. The teacher who crafts a novel literacy project or clever math algorithm should have their great ideas spread.
Perhaps a better franchise model for education is a Chipotle, Sweetgreen or any of the other fast-casual restaurants that allow patrons to customize their orders (and even celebrate and spread unique customizations) — and get a healthier product in the process.
Thanks for reading. Have a great week.