Lessons from the Workplace in the Classroom `Total Quality Management,' First Applied in Business, Is Being Adapted for Education

Article excerpt

AT the Boston University school of management, a transformation is under way. Students will increasingly be graded not only as individuals but also as members of teams.

"For you to succeed, the team must succeed," Dean Louis Lataif tells students. Students must still pass individual proficiency tests, but by next fall, 90 percent of the course work for a master's degree in business administration (MBA) will involve some kind of teaming, Mr. Lataif says.

For Lataif, a former vice president of the Ford Motor Company, the growing emphasis on teamwork is part of a broad move to implement the principles of "total quality management."

TQM, long a buzzword among companies struggling to regain their competitive edge, can also work significant changes in America's educational system, Lataif and other educators say.

"I think it's our greatest hope," says Seldon Whitaker, a high school superintendent who for several years has been incorporating TQM concepts into programs in the State College, Pa., school district.

Although the application of these management ideas in the education world is still in its infancy, interest is "growing exponentially; it is just booming," says Jonathan Fife, director of the ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education, an information resource center at George Washington University in Washington.

If this movement is to transform education, however, several hurdles must be jumped. These include teachers' resistance to change and the time and effort it takes to implement TQM.

The basic elements of the system espoused by W. Edwards Deming and other management experts include a focus on "customer" needs, measuring performance and trying continuously to improve it, and creating a management environment (including pay and promotion policies) in which everyone works toward common goals. (See story, left.) Proponents emphasize teamwork as part of this effort.

To date, efforts to apply these management concepts in education have been aimed mostly at administrative performance, rather than at curriculum, says Lawrence Sherr, professor of business at the University of Kansas and co-author of a recent book, "Quality: Transforming Postsecondary Education" (George Washington University).

Many colleges, however, are trying to apply the ideas more broadly, Professor Sherr says. These range from community colleges to elite schools such as Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass. A few institutions are trying to implement the quality regime university-wide. These include the University of Michigan, the North Dakota university system, and Pennsylvania State University. …