Businesslike approach is what education needsOn June 21...

Letters

July 04, 1999

Businesslike approach is what education needs

On June 21, David L. Greene wrote about the Carroll County schools' efforts to introduce the Baldrige criteria to administrators and classroom instructors ("Schools adopt corporate standards"). I would like to applaud Mr. Greene and The Sun for bringing this information to readers.

Mr. Greene described the marriage of Baldrige with the school system as "odd," and that turning to management consultants was "unexpected."

What is odd about a school system attempting to create a comprehensive and aligned framework that allows it to integrate the myriad of requirements and improvement initiatives into a cohesive system? What is unexpected about an enterprise that is the steward of a publicly funded budget of several hundred million dollars attempting to improve its management systems?

Based on the history of education reform initiatives across the country, it is understandable that Mr. Greene and many readers of The Sun would approach any new initiative with a healthy degree of skepticism. Is Baldrige a fad in education, or an important missing piece of the education reform mosaic?

After more than a decade of experience, the answer is clear that Baldrige approaches in industry lead to business success as by customer satisfaction, operational performance measures and financial performance measures (e.g., stock prices).

In education, only a handful of school systems have had two years or more of experience with Baldrige implementation. The Baldrige Criteria for Education were launched just this year. However, the experiences of Pinellas County, Florida, and a number of school systems in North Carolina and Texas suggest that the potential benefits of this approach in education can be very significant. Anecdotal evidence from teachers in Howard County, who are using the approach, suggest that they are seeing positive benefits in terms of both student behavior and parent satisfaction.

Unlike many other education reforms, the Baldrige criteria are neither prescriptive nor do they come with an installation guide. They simply provide a standard against which an organization can assess and improve its management processes.

As a result, school board members, administrators, and teachers who wish to use the Baldrige process to improve their management approaches at the district level, at the school level and in the classroom must find their own path to implementation.

Schools are not adopting corporate standards, as implied by the headline for the article. Schools are creating educational management systems that will accelerate the rate of improvement in student achievement.

Mr. Greene correctly pointed out that Howard, Harford and Carroll counties have embarked on their own "tailored" approaches to implementation. He could have also pointed out that Baltimore, Montgomery and Wicomico counties are doing so as well. However, each system is different. While all are "Baldrige-based," the specific approach that works for one may not work for another.

The Baldrige framework adds an important element to the Maryland education reform efforts. The Maryland School Performance Assessment Program has served to create a strong focus on results throughout Maryland school systems.

Coupled with State Department of Education initiatives to develop skills in analyzing and using testing data to improve results, an important foundation has been erected. The integrated management system adds to these initiatives the engine which drives the results.

This management system does not replace the specific, research-based, reform initiatives that are needed to improve reading, accelerate mathematics understanding or improve school security. Rather, it provides a way to integrate these separate initiatives, align them with state, system and school requirements and build the organizational capability to deliver the results.

Most importantly, in the classroom, schools are shifting a large portion of the responsibility for learning from the teacher to the student. They are equipping the student with the tools and the capability to take charge of his or her own lifelong learning.

Where this is working, it goes beyond any effort that I have witnessed in the private sector to engage all the members of an organization in a systematic improvement effort.

I would invite The Sun to continue to monitor the continuing evolution of the education reform efforts in Maryland. Maintain a healthy skepticism without becoming cynical, as some failures are inevitable. Inform your readers of worthy role models. Visit the schools where this process is being implemented.

In a few years, I predict that you will write an article with the headline, "Businesses adopt education standards," as more and more business partners find that they can learn from schools in their quest to become learning organizations.

Thomas C. Tuttle, College Park, Md.

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