"U.S. Workforce Development Policy Should Be Based on the Principles of Total Quality. A revolutionary new approach is required in the design of workforce training and development programs. Those programs should be based on the principles of Total Quality Management: identification of customers and their requirements, a commitment to continuous improvement, benchmarking successful programs, results measurement, and involvement of stakeholders in creating solutions." - from the Business Roundtable website (www.businessroundtable.org/taskforces/taskforce/document.aspx?gs=69A6BF807822B0F13D450D46BFC5B280A8106CEEE663D)
Since No Child Left Behind is an attempt to apply the principles of Total Quality Management to the public education system, we need to understand TQM and how it is made manifest in NCLB.
First, of course, a little background. W.E. Deming is considered by many to be the father of the Total Quality movement, and his work with Japanese industry after World War II led to a dramatic increase in quality and profitability, and caught the attention of the Big Three automakers back in the United States. Deming preached that most production problems were the result of poor systems and system management, rather than the shortcomings of people working within the system. Improve the system, improve the product.
Deming offered 14 points for management that included the creation of win/win situations, an emphasis on long term competitiveness over short term profits, continual improvement of the production process, and the elimination of adversarial relationships between workers and management, among others. The full list is available as part of Wikipedia's bio on Deming www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._Edwards_Deming (another, less flattering viewpoint on Deming, Peter Drucker and the TQM movement can be found at http://www.crossroad.to/Quotes/TQM.html).
Many of Deming's ideas were adapted by psychologist William Glasser, who would combine them with his Control Theory, and apply them to the field of education in his books The Quality School and The Quality School Teacher.
If you read Deming's ideas, and Glasser's as well, quality management sounds quite positive and empowering for managers, workers, teachers, and students. Both men wrote of the need for those in power (management/administration/teachers) to give up power and and be leaders rather than bosses, to remove the coercive elements in the typical boss/worker relationship that sabotaged an organization's efforts to create quality products.
Is this the Total Quality Management on which NCLB is based? Of course not. The Total Quality movement as most often practiced in the U.S. today is a bastardization of Deming's ideas, and especially so as manifest in NCLB. Let's look at the principles of TQM as it is described by the Business Roundtable in the quote above.
1) Identification of customers and their requirements - Who is the customer of a school system? Is it the parents? The student? The community? The nation? Wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong, at least as far as the Business Roundtable is concerned. In their eyes, Business is the customer whose demands public education must meet. Perhaps that seems like a small matter, and maybe even a reasonable idea, but remember; these are the people who refer to your kids and mine as "human capital." Do you think a boss wants the same kind of education for his workers as a parent would want for their children? I'll expand on this idea in a future post. You can mull it over yourself for awhile, but I suspect you already know the answer.
2) A commitment to continuous improvement - This is the source of the pie-in-the-sky, ever-shifting goals of NCLB that are to result in all children being proficient as determined by state testing by 2014. By the way, were you aware that if too many students answer a question correctly on the MEAP, Michigan's statewide assessment tool, it is replaced? Imagine how difficult it would be to become proficient at shooting a free throw if the basket's height, diameter, and location were moved before each practice.
3) Benchmarking successful programs - In NCLB-speak this is the call for an emphasis on "scientifically research-based" instructional methods. Unfortunately, precious little such research exists (Jerry Bracey argues that no such research exists), and none of it guarantees successful instruction for all children all the time. This, of course, is obvious to anyone who spends time around children and recognizes that each one is different in countless ways large and small. What works for one might not work for another, and that's to be expected. Such variability is a hard pill to swallow for those who view kids as little lumps of plastic, though. Plastic is easy to work with, and once you find the single best way to work with it, it responds in a wholly predictable and controllable way.
Interestingly, another TQM website http://home.att.net/~iso9k1/tqm/tqm.html#Ten%20Steps%20to%20Total%20Quality%20Management%20(TQM) notes that reduction of variability is a key component of TQM. The recent scripted preparation for the MEAP we just experienced sheds a light on things to come, when every student will be on working on the same (state-authored) curriculum on the same day at the same time. This flies in the face of everything we know about child development, but remember, we're not talking about educating children, we're developing a workforce.
4) Results measurement - Here is the source of the constant barrage of high-stakes testing our children are tormented with. TQM demands that data must be generated so that measurements can be made, and if it can't be measured, it doesn't matter. So much for curiosity, integrity, motivation, and perseverance. Deming himself noted that one of the seven deadly diseases of systems management was running a system based on numbers alone. Also, notice that we've nicely segued into the field of behaviorism, a key to understanding the full thrust of NCLB and the thinking of those behind it. We will also need to consider the handling of all this data being created, who has access to it, and for what purposes.
5) Involving stakeholders in creating solutions - This actually brings us back to the first point - identifying the customer. Since business considers itself the customer, and thus the major stakeholder, this principle of TQM serves as justification for the Business Roundtable's meddling in the lives of our children. How many parents were actually contacted for their input into state-mandated curricula? You weren't and neither was I. That's because we're not considered major stakeholders in our children's education, and thus don't need to be part of the effort to create solutions.
Much of NCLB flies in the face of Deming's ideas on quality, as did the American incarnation of TQM which Deming himself viewed askance. You can find an interesting commentary on this at http://forum.qualitygurus.com/viewtopic.php?t=19. In it, Paul Forbes, chairman and CEO of The Forbes Group, observes that U.S. businesses adopted the style of Deming's work without the substance, basically giving it lip-service while violating its most basic principles. This was due to the difference in goal orientation between Japanese and U.S. firms. In Japan, a company's mission is to stay in business and provide jobs through customer satisfaction, innovation, research, constant improvement and maintenance." In America, a company's business is simply to make a profit, and to make it now. With that mindset, the cold science of efficiency guru Frederick Taylor, coupled with the behaviorist's sterile carrot-and-stick approach, suit the needs of business more than Deming's humane, long-term thinking.
Total Quality Management? I don't think so.