Apply Deming's Methods to K-12 Curriculum and Improve Student Achievement

By Kelly, Thomas F. | Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

Apply Deming's Methods to K-12 Curriculum and Improve Student Achievement


Kelly, Thomas F., Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table


Apply Deming's Methods to K--12 Curriculum and Improve Student Achievement

The problem is at the policy level and its correction must start there. Present policy is defeating its own purpose of improving schools

After almost three full decades of school reform nationally student achievement is about where it was when we started and student behavior has declined dramatically. Numbers of drop outs, especially in our cities and among the poor and minorities are much higher. This despite the fact that reform efforts have involved many billions of dollars, countless professionals, honest and extensive amounts of work, endless state and federal legislation, regulation and mandates, and no end to good intentions. After thirty years of failure, its time for something different.

W. Edwards Deming has pointed out that persistent problems in organizations are due not to the workers but the system; the structure of the work, systemic practices, policies, methods and conventional thinking. Toyota is one outstanding example of how his methods can take an inferior company to excellence and dominance.

When I was a young teacher I lived in New Jersey and worked in the Bronx. Each morning I would drive to the George Washington Bridge and cross the Hudson River to the Bronx. If all went well (no breakdowns, accidents, bad weather), my usual delay was about V2 hour. In the evening I reversed the process again hoping all went well.

While I sat in my car wasting gas and polluting the air, I frequently cursed the toll takers (blamed the workers). In retrospect I now understand that they could not have improved traffic flow more than ever so slightly even if every toll taker operated at 100% efficiency all of the time.

What caused the dramatic improvement we now see in the river crossings (and now being extended to toll roads all over the country)? Reconsidering the structure of the system and changing it not only helped but transformed the results. This is essentially the same process that transformed Toyota from a third rate product to world class.

The structure of work at the bridge was essentially the same for over 50 years. Then one day someone reconsidered the whole toll taking system/structure and made a startling observation. If tolls were eliminated on one side of the bridge and doubled going the other way the same amount of revenue would be collected and delays would be cut by more than 50 % since extra toll takers were transferred to places on the collection side. The consequences of this creative systems thinking are many, all positive and in effect to this day:

1. Delays were significantly reduced.

2. The same amount of revenue was collected.

3. Toll taker productivity was dramatically increased.

4. This was accomplished with the same or even less resources.

5. We could also generalize and do the same thing for all of the bridges and tunnels up and down the river.

6. We could even do the same things to collect tolls and improve all of the above in other parts of New York State and all across the United States.

7. Reduction in driver stress and related medical and emotional problems, health care costs, etc.

8. A great reduction in air pollution.

9. A great reduction in use of gasoline.

10. Many more peaceful and enjoyable dinners at home.

11. Reduction in family stress, conflict and prevention of some divorces.

12. Happier drivers.

13. Happier toll takers.

This change was actually continuous systemic improvement # 2. (The first improvement was the advent of exact change lanes. This change resulted in collection of the same amount of revenue while requiring fewer resources.)

Having made such a simple brilliant systemic improvement, the leaders at the bridges and tunnels did not stop. They continued to try to improve the system? …

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Apply Deming's Methods to K-12 Curriculum and Improve Student Achievement
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