We Need You More Than Ever, W. Edwards Deming

Image: FDA

W. Edwards Deming was an engineer and management expert who’s writing and speaking formed the basis of the Quality or Total Quality Management movement. He worked with Japan after World War II and he acknowledged being one of the key people who led the transformation in the Japanese economy which led to their reputation for quality rather than cheap and inferior products. Many of his approaches to statistical process control, market research, the Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycle, and organizational management are in use today throughout the world. He brought a systems approach to the study of processes and organizations that was later explored by Peter Senge and others.

Following his publishing of the System of Profound Knowledge, he identified the fourteen key principles, often referred to as the 14 Points, for transforming the effectiveness of organizations. The points were detailed in the seminal book Out of the Crisis and the 14 Points came from the study of businesses and other organizations all over the world. While all of the 14 have something to say about education, some of these points speak more directly to our present culture of APPR and accountability (whether §3012-c or §3012-d). Consider:

Point 1: Create Constancy of Purpose for Improvement of Product and Service. Schools must focus on learning through the continuous improvement of student and teacher work. An emphasis on end-of-the-line state assessment scores is less important than the improvement during the process. The purpose of school is not to produce high test scores but to prepare lifelong learners and creative problem solvers. Schools should be striving to prepare students not for the present, but for the future. All schools and districts should have long-range plans to achieve these objectives.

Point 2: Adopt the New Philosophy. The world has changed and our schools have to change, too. This means preparing all students for their future – and all means all. Teachers, teams of teachers, and schools have to find ways for all students to succeed, recognizing that every student is different. Schools and districts have to be dedicated to continuous improvement in every aspect; the status quo is never acceptable in a rapidly changing world. Plans to implement the new philosophy have to be built on trust, too.

Point 3: Cease Dependence on Inspection. Assessment that comes at the end, such as summative and accountability assessment, is too late. This is true both for students and for teachers. For students, formative assessment and constant feedback leads to learning. For teachers, growth producing feedback and meaningful collaboration on the right work, throughout the year, leads to learning and improvement. Summative tests, state accountability tests, and summative teacher evaluation labels are forms of mass end-of-the-line inspection that have long been abandoned in business and industry, everywhere.

Point 4: End the Practice of Awarding Business on Price Tag Alone. At first glance, the connection to education seems more tenuous with this point than the other points. The connection to education, however, is that relationships between departments and teams have to be built upon trust and collaboration. So, too, must the “customer” relationships between parents and school be built upon trust and mutual interest in student learning; it has to be a partnership.

Point 5: Improve Constantly and Forever the System of Production and Service. Continuous improvement is the fundamental principle of learning. Mastery should never be a goal. Rather, getting better should be the goal. Teachers and students should make all of their instructional and learning decisions based on this idea. Teachers, teams of teachers, students, and teams of students have to be willing to experiment and to learn from those experiments, including failures.

Point 6: Institute Training on the Job. Everyone needs continuous training. This includes leaders, teachers, pre-service teachers, and students. People who are new to the system have to be trained and become familiar with the system. We have to train students to be learners, which traditional schooling erodes. The culture of a school has to be learning for everyone, all the time.

Point 7: Institute Leadership. Leadership is crucial to the success of the school. The leaders have to understand the school as a system and establish a climate of trust and collaboration. The principal empowers teachers so that they, in turn, can empower students. The principal creates an environment in which all teachers want to learn, and in which all students can and want to learn, too. Within a school, there are various systems in which there are a variety of leaders; leadership is distributed and interdependent. No one waits around for someone in authority to address a need; the person who sees the problem has the ability and responsibility to become the leader. Learning can’t wait.

Point 8: Drive out Fear. Fear is the most destructive element in the culture of a district or a school. Systems of inspection that label teachers (and students) and threaten penalties have never worked and never will. Emphasizing social capital rather than a complete reliance on human capital does work. People cannot perform their best when they feel secure. The fundamental principles of the APPR system violate this principle. So, too, do the many classroom systems of grades, punishments, and reward systems violate the 8th point. Open and honest communication is a key ingredient of a collaborative and productive culture.

Point 9: Break Down Barriers between Staff Areas. Organizational and temporal structures in schools have to include regular and frequent time for team collaboration. The teams must co-labor on the right work, using plans, processes, protocols, and other devices to ensure their focus and productivity. No teacher can be allowed to work on her own, in isolation from others in the school. Not only must the barriers between people be eliminated, the segregation of content areas must also be eliminated. The curriculum must become more integrated, reflecting the organization of the world outside of school. This will prepare students for that world and will also allow for meaning and relevance which traditional discipline-segregated instruction undermines.

Point 10: Eliminate Slogans, Exhortations, and Targets for the Work Force. The problem with slogans and targets is that they emphasize the wrong thing, implying that individual actions are the path toward continuous improvement rather than a better functioning system. When targets are not met, blame is assigned thus undermining the desired, fear-free culture. Targets on state accountability assessments are an obvious example of this. Teacher teams should set their own targets for their students and use formative assessment to monitor and adjust in order to reach the targets. For example, “Reach for the Stars” doesn’t help anyone with concrete suggestions for improvement.

Point 11: Eliminate Numerical Quotas. In education, this translates to a decrease of the use of grades, points, and marks as currency. Grades should not be the goal; learning is the goal. A focus on grades and numerical goals results in people doing less, not more. It results in students learning less, not more.

Point 12: Remove Barriers to Pride and Joy of Work. Everyone involved in a school or district should collaboratively work to eliminate the barriers between departments and teams. The systems that have been established in schools have to change in order for collaboration and continuous improvement to occur. Our present systems in school and districts maintain silos and disconnectedness. This is true for teachers and for students. The removal of barriers results in empowered teachers and students.

Point 13: Institute a Vigorous Program of Education and Self-Improvement. The entire educational system depends on the learning and continuous improvement of everyone within that system. Schools in which people refuse to learn and schools that are not improving. Individuals learn on their own while also participating in collaborative, collective, systematic learning of the organization.

Point 14: Put Everybody To Work to Accomplish the Transformation. Everyone in the school and district has to understand their role and how their work is an integral part of the system. Senior leadership has to express this fundamental belief with all of their actions. A culture in which learning and continuous improvement is the norm is a fun place in which to learn and work.

For more:

  • Bonstingl, J. J. (1996). Schools of quality: An introduction to total quality management in education. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
  • Byrnes, M. A., et al. (1994). The quality teacher: Implementing total quality management in the classroom. Port Orange, FL: Cornesky & Associates Press.
  • Crawford, D. K. (1993). The school for quality learning: Managing the school and classroom the Deming way. Springfield, IL: Capital City Press.
  • Fields, J. C. (1993). Total quality for schools: A suggestion for American education. Milwaukee, WI: ASQC Press.


Jeff Craig
Assistant Superintendent for Instructional Support Services

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