An Interview With
Gregory B. Hutchins

by Scott Madison Paton

Gregory B. Hutchins, P.E., is the chair of the American Society for Quality Control's Education Division. He is also a principal in the consulting firm Quality Plus Engineering. In addition to being the author of five books on quality, Hutchins writes a column for The Oregonian newspaper in Portland, Oregon.

Hutchins was a math and engineering instructor at Portland Community College for five years. This propelled his interest in the area of quality and education, specifically school-to-work transition. He has chaired the technical advisory committee at PCC and has served on a number of statewide commissions and advisory groups on higher education in Oregon.

QD: What is the state of quality in education today?
Hutchins: Chaotic. Why? Too many stakeholders. The traditional customers have been the student, the parent and the administrator. Now it is the political community, the taxpayer, Republican legislatures, businesses, parents, school administrators, teachers and students. Everybody is speaking a different language and nobody is listening.

QD: What do you think affects the success of implementing quality systems into education the most?
Hutchins: We need a common language and common metrics, and we need to listen to each other and to depoliticize the whole landscape of education. These days, quality in education is called by different names: reengineering, values education, teaching effectiveness, etc. The bottom line is that people simply want more from their schools. In some states, the investment per student is up to $11,000 in primary schools. In other states, it is down as low as $3,000 per student. We have a huge disparity of how schools are funded.

There is also a new language in education. Traditionally, the language of education was much more process-driven. Now it's driven by politics and by results. The political language of education goes under the terms choice schools, school vouchers, charter schools, home-based education. That is creating much more chaos. Therefore, although the education process is becoming much more democratic, it is creating much more chaos and resistance in traditional education.

QD: What commonly used quality principles seem to work best in education?
Hutchins: The tools that seem to work the best tend to be problem-solving tools, such as cause-and-effect diagrams, attribute charts, variables charts and tools that focus on identifying problems.
Tools used to create consensus and direction should be used, but, for some reason, they simply don't work well in the education environment. I think it's because we have too many dissident voices out there. This is a democracy, and some pundit years ago said that democracy is a messy proposition. It doesn't get any messier than when you are talking about education.

QD: W. Edwards Deming was outspoken in his criticism of using grades to rank students. Can we really expect grades to disappear in the quality school?
Hutchins: In the best of all possible worlds, we would get away from grades, but we are getting away from the democratization of education. We are becoming much more performance-driven and results-driven. In everything from affirmative action to grades, we are becoming more and more control-driven.

Of course, there is an element of fear in there. In other words, Deming's principles don't tend to fit the educational model that well. In the current climate of education, we are seeing much more emphasis on results, metrics, certification. It is not something I particularly like or endorse, but that's what is happening.

QD: What is the ASQC doing to promote quality in education?
Hutchins: Education is probably their No. 1 strategic direction. ASQC has about 140,000 members, and the education division has about 4,000 members. Most of the people in our division tend to be industry people-parents who have an interest in education. Our goal is educational quality deployment. So we have a big challenge. We have decided to focus on kindergarten through the workplace and make sure there is a seamless transition through three programs. In kindergarten through the eighth grade, we are focusing on Koalaty Kids, which is a program that takes a lot of Deming's tools and applies them to the classroom. From the eighth grade to the first two years of college, we are working with the Vocational Industrial Clubs of America, a 250,000-member organization largely composed of students focusing on industrial and occupational skills. The third part focuses on the transition from school to the workplace.

QD: Should the ASQC try to represent all the various educators in the nation as well as its traditional base of manufacturing and service?
Hutchins: The ASQC tries to be all things to all people. In some areas, we have been much less than successful. In the education arena, instead of being all things to all people, we have tried to focus on one little group and to do our best within that group. There is no way that we can be the voice of quality education in the country. The best that we can do is to focus on pilots and do our best to form partnerships. The voice of quality in education will come out of other areas.

QD: What does the future of education look like to you?
Hutchins: The future is here. The future is good. I am a great believer in democracy. I am very happy that there are a lot more voices out there. The marketplace will have many more options for education. I think quality will improve at the classroom level. We have huge numbers of committed people. This issue is No. 1 on everybody's political plate.

Some of the most exciting things are happening in school districts across the country. For example, Celebration Academy is a new school system being designed in Orlando from the ground up. It involves corporate partners, Disney and the best and brightest of educators. It integrates values, quality, technology and many other issues.

Also, the technology factor will be absolutely tremendous. Students will have access to information like never before.

One of the great opportunities in quality education is that someone or some group will become the leading voice in quality. Someone like a Deming. People like Deming, Juran or Crosby do not arise unless there is a marketplace need. The marketplace abhors a vacuum. Someone will fill that vacuum with a quality voice. What we would like to do in the ASQC is find that voice.

QD: Any guesses as to who it will be?
Hutchins: There are about half-a-dozen people out there who are leading the way, including Larry Rosen, Franklin Schargel and Marshall Gartenlaub.

Larry Rosen is director of teacher training at Disney's Celebration Academy. Disney is designing a town, Celebration, outside of Orlando from the ground up. Disney's goal is to reinvent education based on values, integrity, quality, fairness and a number of other principles. They have retained the best technology and well-known education consultants to redesign curriculum, delivery and the entire educational infrastructure.

Franklin Schargel is a former vice principal at George Westinghouse High School in New York. He demonstrated very significant results, specifically quality improvement, in an urban high school setting. He may be the most persuasive and persistent voice in quality education.

Marshall Gartenlaub is director of the Center of Applied Technology at Fullerton College in Fullerton, California. He conceived and leads the ASQC-VICA partnership. The partnership focuses on empowering students to meet the requirements of industry and the marketplace. This is the leading school-to-work initiative in the country.