Build quality into education, not over measure it

An interesting article appeared on EdWeek noting that not all business ideas are making it through the corporate education reform movement

Many of the current education reform trends in America attempt to improve the quality of our public schools by applying various management strategies used in the business world. These model business lessons, heralded as tough, effective reform, don't always look like the strategies being seen in business-to-business advice about managing systems and working effectively with people, however.

Take, for example, the groundbreaking and very influential work of Edwards Deming. Deming is best known for his 14 points of quality management. Deming and his principles were instrumental in working to improve the quality of Japanese manufacturing after World War II. As companies in the United States began to see the improved quality of Japanese products, they too adopted Deming's principles.

For some reason, however, the Deming strategies of quality that businesses utilize are all but ignored when trying to improve education in America.

For example, consider Deming's third point of quality, "Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality. Eliminate the need for massive inspection by building quality into the product in the first place." In the United States current education reform initiatives seem to be totally ignoring that Deming principle by our insistence of depending on inspection with standardized testing.

What are some examples of changes we could do to "build quality" into education? We could revamp the way teachers are trained. We could utilize the intern model used by the medical profession by having quality internships for new teachers. Doing so would also be honoring Deming's sixth point; "Institute training on the job." Instead, in most cases new teachers are given the most difficult teaching assignments and expected to perform alone.

We could "build quality" by questioning the idea of one teacher per classroom. We could "build quality" by redesigning the school year calendar and replacing it with a calendar that recognizes the quality benefits of time for teachers to plan and evaluate student work.

We could "build quality" by developing 21st century techniques of education that aren't built on a foundation of a standardized curriculum developed by 10 elite men in the 1890's. We could "build quality" by developing a support system in the education process that would reduce the high percentage of teachers that leave the profession within the first five years.

The article also points out some comments Demming made about education

  • Quality goes down when ranking people.
  • Cramming facts into students' heads is not learning.
  • People talk about getting rid of deadwood (bad teachers), but there are only two possible explanations of why the dead wood exists: 1) You hired deadwood in the first place, or, 2) you hired live wood, and then you killed it.

It seems there are some lessons corporate reformers could learn from their own corporate world.