Quality Tools and Education: Making a Difference on a Global Scale

I dream of a time when quality is recognized throughout the world as a vehicle of improvement and innovation. Here’s an example: education.

The quality of education is central to the vitality of every community, anywhere in the world. Our collective future rests in the hands of children. So, when I learned the ASQ Milwaukee, Wis., section invited Dr. JoAnn Sternke, the Superintendant of the Pewaukee School District in Wisconsin, to present at their monthly meeting, I was quick to sign up.

Pewaukee School District was a 2010 Governor’s Forward Award of Excellence recipient in Wisconsin, and has publically announced their intent to apply to the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program. You can view strategic plans on their site (under Our Plans, Continuous Improvement, top of the page). That’s transparency.

I knew what to expect and wasn’t disappointed. Dr. Sternke is a passionate and committed leader. She has personally invested in understanding her school district as a system and applied the tools of improvement in the conduct of the district’s mission. It’s all there: A mission, objectives, strategy, and metrics. And over time, by concentrating on the vital few, Dr. Sternke, and the devoted staff of the school district have driven performance to ever higher levels. Success is measured in the classroom, but the business of the school system to support educational excellence is managed, too.

Knowing that quality works, the question that plagues me is why haven’t more leaders of learning institutions embraced it? ASQ has been putting spotlight on success stories for 25 years. Our first effort – Koalaty Kid – created remarkable stories of success. Since 2001 when the University of Wisconsin–Stout and the Pearl River School District in New York received the first Baldrige Awards in education, there have been regular examples of universities, community colleges, and school districts stepping up as examples for others to emulate. So why is it that more institutions of learning aren’t following the lead? How do we raise the voice of quality to capture the imagination of education leaders and support them in getting started?

Now don’t get me wrong. I’ve not thrown in my towel. All I need to feed my fire of hope is to listen to the inspired educators who speak and attend ASQ’s annual National Quality in Education Conference, or to see the excitement on the faces of the audience. All I need to do is meet a JoAnn Sternke. Or listen to the story of Montgomery County Public Schools (2010 Baldrige recipient).

I dream of the fully realized potential and a tipping point when quality is recognized throughout the world as a vehicle of improvement and innovation. That is a worthy aim, and a reason for each of us to raise our voices.

Does your region or community—wherever you are in the world–use quality tools to improve education? How can we encourage educators to join us in raising the global voice of quality?

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