Special Report: Quality in Education on the Move

The Reinvention of Education

by John Marsh

An analysis of the application of total
quality in U.S. and U.K. education.

If changing is really learning, if effective organizations need more and more intelligent people, if careers are shorter and more changeable, above all, if more people need to be self-sufficient for more of their lives, then education has to become the single most important investment that any person can make in their own destiny. . . . Education needs to be re-invented," says C.B. Handy in The Age of Unreason.1

If the United States and United Kingdom are to avoid becoming solely low-labor-cost economies, then both countries need to be obsessed with investing in education and learning. Thankfully, a transformation is underway in both countries. Total quality philosophy and tools are being adopted throughout the education systems in the United States and United Kingdom. As with any innovation, success varies, and applications reflect the different political and social environments. This article presents the principles, analyzes successful applications, investigates the differences and similarities between the two nations' approaches, and identifies challenges for the future.

What is total quality in education?
First, the industrial model does not have all the answers. Successful practition-ers take the best from industrial experiences and combine this, in a holistic framework, with the best learning theories and methods. The result is a fascinating hybrid that naturally varies from school to school. There does appear to be at least three levels of application.

The first and possibly the lowest level of application is to the management processes of a school or other educational establishment. Schools have many processes in common with other organizations. They produce strategic plans,2 recruit and develop staff, deploy resources and require principle-centered leadership.3 While the application of total quality at this level can produce improvements in efficiency, it probably won't inspire students and teachers, or deal with the real root issues that lie within the learning processes.

The next level is teaching total quality to students. The philosophy needs to be covered in its totality, along with methods and tools. This becomes more exciting because it enables the school to move to the highest level.

The highest level is total quality in learning. This is where application impacts the classroom. Todd Bergman, quality coordinator at Mt. Edgecumbe High School in Sitka, Alaska, and I define total quality in learning as a philosophy supported by a comprehensive tool kit4 and driven by students and staff in order to identify, analyze and remove the barriers to learning. One view of the teacher's role is to motivate students to learn. Another is for the teacher to work with students to remove the barriers to motivation. All of us are born with an inherent love of learning. The "forces of destruction,"5 which are built into our systems, work to drive this out of us. Some of us are lucky enough to survive the system.

An important myth in education needs to be destroyed. There is no such thing as "value-free" education. Any human activity or process will be influenced by principles or values.6 These need to be managed to avoid the systemization of unhealthy or negative values. Results cannot be achieved without applying methods, and methods will embrace certain values and principles. A pyramid is one way of viewing the relationship between results, methods and principles (see Figure 1). These need to be founded on a solid understanding of practical psychology and theories of learning, systems and variation, what W. Edwards Deming referred to as profound knowledge.7

The desired results vary according to the stakeholders being questioned. Students want schools to equip them to deal with very uncertain futures. Rather than being "stuffed full" of information, they need to leave their formal education with a love of learning and an understanding of how they learn best. Parents want greater choice and involvement in their children's education. They expect higher academic standards to be achieved but want their children to be balanced, mature citizens. Employers require greater learning skills, teamwork and self-motivation based on a good grasp of the basics.

Governments, however, while in theory representing the electorate, require much more from less. Western economies, particularly the United States and United Kingdom, have been in a gradual process of decline since World War II. As the profitability of industry has declined, the available resources to invest in education have also declined.8 Governments are under intense pressure to reduce public spending. In these circumstances, quality is the answer, not the problem. It is the only way to increase outputs and reduce costs, as the leading industrial practitioners discovered in the 1980s.

In order to achieve the desired results for all stakeholders, schools and other educational establishments must question their core processes and methods. New ideas are emerging, but these need to be based on sound educational and management principles. The most holistic set of principles for quality are Deming's 14 points. Combine an understanding of profound knowledge with the deadly diseases, and you'll have a solid foundation on which to develop methods. If methods contravene these principles, they should be ignored. If they align well, then they should be considered for development. The students and staff at Mt. Edgecumbe have interpreted the 14 points for an educational environment.9 Some of their conclusions will challenge the core beliefs of our current approach to education.

In terms of methods, both the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award and European Quality Award frameworks can be usefully applied to education if they are interpreted sensitively. Figure 2 shows a translation of the European Quality Award framework for a school. This gives an overall framework in which to fit more detailed methods such as self-assessment; portfolios; cross-curricular, project-based learning; student improvement teams; and others.

Any application of total quality in an educational establishment needs to be founded on sound principles. Frameworks such as the Baldrige Award can be useful, but they must allow for flexibility and diversity. The school must fit the approach to itself, not the other way around. The best must be taken from the industrial model and combined with the best from the world of education.

Progress in the United Kingdom
"If you don't shape the future, someone else will," says Joel Barker in Future Edge.10 The conservative government in the United Kingdom had long seen education as a bastion of trendy, progressive, left-wing thinking, focused on ideology rather than service. This perception is far from true, with some of the more progressive schools being closely aligned to quality principles. However, through the media, teachers were portrayed as being in need of a radical shake-up. Change was definitely required, but the government went about this in a very confrontational style. A series of central government changes were implemented in record time. The speed and magnitude was unprecedented and, some would argue, poorly managed.

The first major change was the introduction of a national curriculum. This was implemented rapidly with little stakeholder involvement. Those in tune with government philosophy designed and implemented a well-defined curriculum based on key stages, with standardized tests to evaluate performance. The British National Curriculum is very prescriptive and bureaucratic. Inevitably, there was a backlash from the teachers who refused to cooperate with the testing regime. After many months of conflict, the government listened and the curriculum was redesigned to allow schools 20 percent of teaching time to use as they wish.

A cornerstone of John Major's government has been the Citizen's Charter. This aims to ensure that all citizens receive high-quality services, responsive to their needs, provided efficiently at a reasonable cost. The parent is identified as the main customer for schools. The Parent's Charter defines standards and encourages openness of information. League Tables have been introduced, and choice has led to greater competition. Many teachers have responded negatively to the charter, but initial simplistic measures are being improved. However, because the Citizen's Charter is based on "carrot and stick" principles and is mandatory, a lot of manipulation occurs in order to give the appearance of improvement. On the positive side, the Citizen's Charter has encouraged many public-sector organizations to investigate and start to implement total quality.

The government also introduced major changes in the way schools are inspected. The government established the Office of Standards in Education, and inspection was opened up to market forces, including laypeople on inspection teams. Schools have to "buy in" a full inspection every four years. This is a very expensive approach, and the quality of inspection varies considerably. Deming's third point, cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality, seems to have been ignored by the government, which appears to be doing the opposite.

Very little in British education has remained constant over the last 10 years. Funding mechanisms have also been completely revised. One very successful change has been the introduction of local management of schools. This has empowered schools considerably and has led to more innovation. Also, the government has offered schools large financial incentives to leave local authority control and to receive their funds direct through a central funding agency. Schools can thus opt out and become grant-maintained. Many argue that the grant-maintained system is creating a two-tier state education system. The take-up varies considerably across the country. Some might conclude that this is another attempt by a conservative government to undermine traditionally left-wing local authorities.

Finally, two voluntary standards are being implemented in education. The first is "Investors in People." This is a national initiative designed to help organizations improve performance through a planned approach to setting and communicating goals, and developing people to meet these goals. Designed by Britain's best companies, IIP is proving popular and effective in schools. It is starting to address years of under-investment in teachers. We will not have competent, confident students unless we have competent, confident teachers.

A less welcome development has been the application of ISO 9000 to certain educational establishments. ISO 9000 is an international standard that aims to introduce disciplines, procedures and systems to assure that the production of goods and services meet the customers' requirements. It has its origins in the defense industry and is completely manufacturing-focused. This causes a lot of resistance in education. More important, ISO 9000 only ensures consistency. A registered company "does what it says it does," even if this is not the best approach. Our schools need to reinvent themselves, not proceduralize ineffective and inefficient ways of working.

The British education system has gone through a period of unprecedented change. Much has been imposed on the system by central government. Some initiatives align well with the principles of total quality. Others have conflicted with basic principles and created a real tension for schools trying to apply continual improvement.

Many applications of total quality are being reported across the United Kingdom. These are spread across the spectrum of educational establishments. Often, these initiatives come with different labels, such as school improvement or effectiveness,11 but they embrace many of the underlying principles of total quality.

Hamblett School in St. Helens was one of the first special schools to officially introduce TQM,12 but many others have been close to the spirit of the philosophy for a long time. The idea of focusing on the individual's wants and needs is more second nature in this environment. Also, special schools are less constrained by the national curriculum and are often allowed to be more innovative. The level of commitment from teachers is usually very high.

Similarly, the concepts of total quality, particularly based on Deming's teachings, are generally well-received in primary schools. The more progressive primary schools have been developing collaborative, project-based learning approaches for many years. Some have even questioned reward and punishment concepts13 and moved away from grading and ranking to concentrate on intrinsic motivation. Ironically, government initiatives designed to improve quality, by concentrating on standards and testing, have forced many of these pioneers to abandon their work and return to "chalk and talk" and "teaching to the test." Many primary teachers have a fundamental belief in the same principles articulated by Deming but are frustrated by a national system that seems to be driving them backward.14

Many secondary schools around the country have been making gains. Somervale Comprehensive School in Midsomer Norton has been implementing total quality for three years.8, 15 They were supported by Avon Training and Enterprise Council, a government-funded organization aimed at improving prosperity by increasing investment in education and training throughout the community.

Somervale, which is now exchanging students with Mt. Edgecumbe High School, started with a strategic review involving all stakeholders, including students. This identified the critical proc-esses for improvement. Improvement teams involving parents, teachers, support staff and students were established and facilitated through a cycle of process improvement. The school established a steering group that meets every month.

A major breakthrough occurred when some teachers, support staff, students and a parent went through a six-month training process to become facilitators. These people went on to lead improvement initiatives in many areas. One of the most successful was the complete redesign of the process for reporting with parents and students. Another facilitator course is about to start with a similar mix of people. This will concentrate more on the learning proc-esses themselves. Somervale now intends that all students will experience total quality in order to use the philosophy and tools at the center of the curriculum.

There are many other examples of secondary schools implementing total quality across the country. Another innovator is Westwood St. Thomas School in Salisbury. They have used total quality to engage 150 stakeholders in strategic planning. They, too, are using the tools in the classroom. Most of these schools realize that they have begun a long process and that there are no quick fixes.

Further, education colleges have become very aware of quality because they have recently been incorporated as businesses, and local authorities are no longer able to bail them out if they get into financial difficulties. There is a Students Charter and much greater competition. New funding regimes also require that quality objectives be met. Some colleges have taken a very procedural approach to quality, and several have achieved ISO 9000. Many others are taking a more balanced approach.

Finally, universities still appear to be keener to teach students total quality rather than to practice the concepts themselves. There are some exceptions, but progress in higher education is very slow. Recently, polytechnics achieved university status, and many of the new universities are more responsive to students' needs and have clearer organizational structures.

Sometimes the impetus for total quality comes from outside the educational establishment. Leading total quality employers like Rank Xerox, ICL and the Royal Mail have been assisting local schools to start implementation. It is clearly to their advantage if the quality of students can be improved. The Royal Mail has in fact sponsored the Centre for Total Quality in Education and Community, which exists to promote total quality nationwide. Other bodies such as local education authorities and training and enterprise councils have been acting as catalysts. The British Deming Association has taken a lead, mentoring many schools throughout Leicestershire.

Progress in the United States
The pioneers of total quality in education generally come from the United States, but the ideas have spread rapidly around the world, particularly to the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The United States can boast of schools that have been implementing total quality the longest and as a consequence have learned a great deal. Their willingness to share has helped many others. Every year the American Society for Quality Control publishes the results of its Quality in Education survey. The list grows dramatically each year, but only a handful of schools have been going for more than five years. These leaders include Mt. Edgecumbe High School, Fox Valley Technical College, George Westinghouse High School and Millcreek School District.

Mt. Edgecumbe High School is a state-operated residential school serving students throughout Alaska. Ages range from 14 to 18 years. The school serves about 300 students, 82 percent of whom are native Alaskans.

The school's quality journey started in 1988. At the heart of a quality school must be a quality curriculum. All entering students learn quality philosophy, tools and techniques, and learning theories and practical psychology, including Stephen R. Covey's Seven Habits for Highly Effective People. They then have opportunities to apply this core knowledge in all subject areas. Some quality experts used to think that adults define the curriculum and then the students work with the teachers on improving the delivery process.

Mt. Edgecumbe has gone further. Because the students are engaged in understanding why they are learning something and participate in regular reviews of the curriculum, they now directly influence future curriculum as well as delivery. The school achieves this by using competence-based learning and Bloom's taxonomy. The original curriculum was influenced by state guidelines and other reports about the types of skills that students will need in the future.

Curriculum delivery does not just happen in the classroom. It happens throughout the student's time at school. Marty Johnson, a science teacher at Mt. Edgecumbe, refers to the "kiss" principle. Most people remember their first kiss. They do not remember when they first heard about kissing or were told how it is done. Learning must relate to application, and so great effort is placed on cross-curricular projects.

Finally, the most controversial subject of all: assessment. Deming taught about the harmful effects of grading and ranking, as well as depending on mass inspection. Applying his teachings to education, as Mt. Edgecumbe has done, means monitoring learning, not controlling the students. The school uses the learning matrixes and Bloom's taxonomy in order for students to assess their own learning. This is not done lightly. Students are taught learning theories and assessment techniques. They have to document, demonstrate and defend their learning. The documentation ends up in extensive portfolios, soon to be put on CD-ROMs.

Some results achieved by Mt. Edgecumbe include:
Sixty-eight percent of graduates continue on to college or university. The average progression rate to college for rural high schools is below 5 percent.
Another 28 percent go to technical/trade school or into military service.
The drop-out rate varies between zero and 0.5 percent.
Ninety-seven percent of students believe that the quality of education received was better than the education available in their home communities.
Ninety-two percent of the 1992 graduates would like their children to attend Mt. Edgecumbe High School. The academic challenge was cited as the main reason.
Seventy-five percent of graduates felt that the school did a good job preparing them for continuing education.
Drug and alcohol abuse has fallen dramatically.
Parent satisfaction has risen.

Fox Valley Technical College in Wisconsin has achieved similar results but on a larger scale.16 The college started implementing total quality in 1985 by understanding the students and the business community's wants and needs. They have also directly engaged the community in the process.

As a result of listening to customers, Fox Valley created customer-driven meas-ures and indicators. Because getting a job is so important to students, the school developed a job-placement tracking system. This emphasis encouraged lecturers to focus on the relevance of their courses in preparing students for the working world. Guarantees are offered to students and businesses to compensate in cases of dissatisfaction.

Fox Valley recognizes that all students are different, with different wants and needs, and different learning styles. However, it must be remembered that students are not only customers but also suppliers, and are responsible for their own learning processes. They are co-workers in improving the learning process, but ultimately they remain the primary customers.

The National Alliance of Business's report "The Cutting Edge of Common Sense"17 investigates seven leading examples of TQM in education. In the report, they use the Baldrige Award framework to compare the different approaches. The seven examples are all courageous pathfinders and worthy role models. They include George Westinghouse High School, New York; Millcreek Township Public Schools, Pennsylvania; Mt. Edgecumbe High School, Alaska; Rappahannock County Public Schools, Virginia; Prince William County Public Schools, Virginia; Southwestern Wisconsin Quality Consortium, Wisconsin; and Vermont Department of Education, Vermont. They show, without a doubt, that total quality in education does work and is essential in transforming the system. What is apparent is the sheer diversity of application based on some common principles.

The federal government has identified the need for change, but the failing Goals 2000: Educate America Act schools initiative is another example of using the old paradigm to assess the new. The highly innovative New American Schools initiative is falling victim to short-term and narrow measures of performance. Total quality is not a quick fix and does not sit comfortably with the rampant short-termism of many western governments. Few world leaders appear to understand the quality paradigm.

Every year, there seem to be more and more schools starting on the total quality journey in the United States. The innovators are highlighting a clear path and developing new and creative solutions to some of society's most systemic problems. While a handful of U.S. schools have been in the vanguard, the majority will benefit from looking at best practices across the world as others rapidly adopt total quality principles and tools.

Differences and similarities
The main differences in the total quality approaches adopted in the United States and United Kingdom are rooted in the past. Their social and political systems differ greatly. The United States was started as one great experiment to break away from the traditional. The United Kingdom has a long history of strong central government. Over the last 15 years, more and more power has gone to the center, and local government has become very weak. The schools are caught up in this process with some interesting irony. Just as the most critical process, curriculum design, has gone to the center, schools have been given much greater responsibility for their own management. This creates an enormous tension because many of the root-cause problems lie outside teachers' influence. The only way to resolve this is to work in partnership with other stakeholders on the system itself. With many government initiatives contradicting the total quality philosophy, this has become increasingly difficult and frustrating.

1. Handy, C.B., The Age of Unreason, Harvard Business School Press, 1990, p. 211.

2. Marsh, J., The Strategic Toolkit, IFS International Ltd, 1993.

3. Covey, S.R., Principle-Centered Leadership, Summit, 1991.

4. Marsh, J., The Quality Toolkit­p;An A to Z of Tools and Techniques, IFS International Ltd, 1993.

5. Deming, W.E., The New Economics for Industry, Government and Education, MIT, CAES, 1993.

6. Covey, S.R., The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Simon and Schuster, 1989.

7. Deming, W.E., Out of the Crisis, Cambridge University Press, 1986.

8. Marsh, J., "Economics to Fight Decline," Managing Service Quality, MCB University Press, Nov. 1993, pp. 15­p;20.

9. Cotton, K., "Applying Total Quality Management Principles to Secondary Education," School, Community and Professional Development Program, Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, Snapshot #35.

10. Barker, J., Future Edge, Morrow, 1992.

11. West-Burnham, J., Managing Quality in Schools, Longman, 1992.

12. Brownlow, R., "TQM at Hamblett, Quality and Learning," Journal of Centre for Total Quality in Education and Community, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1994.

13. Kohn, A., Punished by Rewards, Houghton-Mifflin Co., 1993.

14. Haigh, G., "Causes for Celebration in Common," Times Education Supplement, May 12th, 1995, pp. 10­p;11.

15. Marsh, J., "Quality Within the Community," Managing Service Quality, MCB Press, January 1993, pp. 453­p;456.

16. Osborne, D., and Gaebler, T., Reinventing Government, Plume, 1993.

17. Siegel, P., and Byrne, S., The Cutting Edge of Common Sense, National Alliance of Business, 1993.

About the author
John Marsh has many years' experience implementing total quality in business, government, education and more recently with whole communities. While based in the United Kingdom, he regularly works in the United States. He has written two books, many papers and co-authored several British and international standards. He is a passionate enthusiast for using total quality to develop new solutions for whole communities.

For more information, telephone Marsh at (44) 117-949-2119, fax (44) 117-949-7784.