The Quest for the Perfect...

French Fry

Today's New York Times had a story that inspired me more than most. It's about the quest for a specific kind of french fry: one that stays crisp for 30 minutes, long enough to survive delivery from a fast food restaurant to a customer.

The focus of the article isn't McDonald's or KFC, although those are two of the biggest sellers of fries in the world. Instead, the article is about Lamb Weston, the company that raises and processes the potatoes that go into the fries.

The attention to detail is amazing. The "Pentagon of Potatoes," is a thing, apparently, where the crops on Lamb Weston's 20,000-acre farm in southern Washington State. Staffers at the, uh, Pentagon "[test the crops] every week to measure their nutrients, a sort of blood test for plants. Using those results, workers can adjust how much water they give the crops," writes the Times' Rachel Abrams.

Why all the monitoring?

It's part of Lamb Weston's focus on reaching that 30-minute extension of crispness.

“Water is really the enemy,” says Deb Dihel (I never knew that a title like "VP of Innovation" could have anything to do with a potato farm, but now I do). “That’s what we’re trying to protect the French fry from.”

From the fields, overhead pipes deliver the potatoes to the processing plant, where they are peeled by jets of boiling water, sliced as they are hurtled 70 mph into blades, and packaged for shipment.

That's not all. Lamb Weston runs taste tests, even going so far as to send technicians on delivery runs to see what time and packaging constraints their fries face from the time they're served and the time they arrive at people's homes.

On their web site, Lamb Weston advertise, along with their fries, a special container that is "designed with vents that allow moisture to escape while keeping fries crispy," to reach that 30-minute goal.

I can see their reason for concern. Typically I don't order fries when I'm picking up fast food to take home. Sandwiches stay relatively warm. So does pizza, but I'll usually save myself the money on fries that taste terrible cold, and which seem soggy and feel wobbly.

But what I care more about than innovation in french fries is innovation in...


What I admire about Lamb Weston is its relentless focus. They want 30 minutes of crispy fries, and they're willing to go so far as to monitor the soil and nurse the baby potatoes.

Having taught for 20 years, and having been focused on innovation the past six, I have seen many foci come and go for educators.In just the past six, we have seen higher standards, college-and-career readiness, technology, STEAM, and performance-based learning, to name a few. Every time I log on to Twitter there are new ideas out there that I probably should be focusing on. A few reinforce the professional foci (yes, there are more than one) that I have chosen for myself over the past few years. None affirming a single, clear focus like, well, the 30-minute crispy fry.

Another amazing element of this story is the comprehensive approach that Lamb Weston takes to achieving its goal of 30 minutes of crispiness. There is monitoring of the key elements of the potato--nutrition and moisture--at every level, practically.

Applying this to education, to me, would also involve monitoring the nutrition and growing environment for kids to ensure that they have what they need in the months before they are, uh, chopped up and fried (!), no, seriously, before they enter the classroom to learn. The production, i.e. the Education of these kids would also be engineered to reach the goal.

So..What is the Education Equivalent of the 30-minute Crispy Fry?

For me, as a father as well as a teacher, it is college- and career-readiness.

Are we giving kids skills they can use, or are we babysitting them until they are mature enough to fend for themselves? Granted, not every student should be pushed into college. Those who are going, however, should have a fair, measurable amount of writing and critical-thinking skills.

Those who don't go to college deserve at least a basic career skill. I love it when I hear of high schools training students to be Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs), providing certificates in computer networking, or graphic design, or even helping entrepreneurship begin in high school.

I'd love to see this become the focus for my school, for my district. I'd love to see a comprehensive look at all steps in the process for their utility in achieving this goal. I'd love to see students and families pick up on this focus and make it their own, not one of many.

And you know what else?

I think I would...


Like fries with that!