ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition - August 2001


Issue Highlight — Moveable Chairs
- Peter Block discusses a Milwaukee religious dispute and how the protestors' passion and commitment regarding space and structure should transcend into the workplace.

The Road To Quality
Reach New Heights in Performance and Achievement Through the Baldrige

“What you aim for matters. What you measure matters,” says Mike Ward. “Heaven help you if what you aim for and what you measure are different. Heaven help you if what you aim for and what you measure are the same—and they’re the wrong things!” These words coming from a quality engineer would be commonplace, but coming from a state school superintendent, they are not.

   And Mike Ward is just that. As superintendent of public instruction for the state of North Carolina, Ward has been involved with the National Association of Business’ Baldrige in Education Initiative (BiE-IN) program. BiE-IN is a partnership of 26 national business and education organizations that are managed by the National Alliance of Business and the American Productivity and Quality Center. The program supports states, districts and communities in implementing a Baldrige-based improvement strategy for schools. The belief is that the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award Criteria provide educators, their businesses and community partners with a framework to transform the education system so that it has the capacity to meet ever-increasing expectations for student performance.

   Formed in mid-1999, BiE-IN developed pilot programs in six states: Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, New Mexico, Ohio and Texas. The goal of the initiative was to fundamentally transform education by convening people—who may not have previously had an opportunity to come together—in leadership roles to determine what their education system needed to be about. These leaders included state legislators, key education groups and administrators. According to Peggy Siegel, director of leadership/education initiatives for the National Alliance of Business, the concept was to have them define the specific measures that would accelerate student performance.

   “The beauty of the Baldrige Criteria is that it is data driven and continuous. This strategy has been most successful at the classroom level through the use of data from statewide assessment tests as one barometer which is supplemented with data coming directly from the classes,” says Siegel. “Education has never really been process focused. The Baldrige is about stretching our education systems beyond having more rigorous goals. It is about aligning the systems that support students as they matriculate through the school,” says Siegel.

   Obviously school reform is a major issue for most Americans. Hardly a day goes by without a public official addressing the need to reform and improve our nation’s schools. Typically, the approach has been to pass a law, cross our fingers and hope that change happens—the traditional top-down approach, which falls back on the old mechanistic model that if we mandate change, it will occur. But, according to Siegel, “The Baldrige Criteria bust that concept wide open. Educators who are starting to use the assessment and its related Criteria are moving from being held accountable to choosing to be accountable. BiE-IN works with the pilot states to make sure those needs are fulfilled.”
When she first came to Ohio, Susan Tave-Zelman wanted, “to create a need for change.” With customer satisfaction and customer service as priorities, Zelman used Baldrige to totally reorganize Ohio’s Department of Education. Now employee performance goals are aligned and focused on being accountable to the department’s key customers—local school districts.

   Customer focus is one Baldrige category that might initially appear problematic for schools. Who are their customers? If you are a second grade teacher in rural Texas, who is your customer? Traditionally, parents are thought of as customers. In simple terms, using a Baldrige focus, teachers and students soon realize that the direct customer for second grade is the third-grade teacher. With a Baldrige approach, a second-grade teacher is going to know what measures and key factors will be critical for his or her students’ success with the third-grade teacher.

   Naturally any discussion of education reform raises the cry of funding for our schools. How can we have a superior product if we don’t have the necessary funds to produce it? Even that query can be answered using a data-driven model. Siegel recounts the story of a superintendent in an upscale community outside of Rochester, New York. The superintendent realized that because of the wealth in the community, many parents were sending their children to private schools. His answer—he tracked market share. Not a radical concept for business, which lives and dies by such terminology, but innovative when applied to public education. The superintendent was able to increase market share by communicating data on what the school offered and overall performance. Other systems use data to provide quarterly reports to community and business leaders, and as a result, are seeing improved efforts in generating funds—whether through the legislator or the electorate. “Anything that is data driven,” Siegel states, “is effective in developing and maintaining public support for education.”

   Siegel also contends that a major thrust of BiE-IN is to help states connect the dots between all of the available systems and data. “New Mexico had a lot of random arrows,” states Mike Davis, education chief for the state. “Success for every child means a lot of different things to different people and there were many competing plans on what to do.” For Davis, Baldrige became the way to “line up all the arrows together,” particularly after he saw students in classrooms using Baldrige who were, “making progress and taking responsibility for their own learning.”

   And that, according to Siegel, is perhaps the ultimate goal of BiE-IN: “To establish school systems that promote, enhance and develop a culture of life-long learning. The challenge is to connect the dots. It is not that we don’t know what to do, because we do. It’s about taking a data-driven systems approach to making life-long learning happen.”

   Currently the federal government is passing the Elementary and Secondary Education Reauthorization Act. This act has strong bipartisan support around creating a performance-driven system in education—merging accountability and flexibility at the local level. The questions then become: How do you create such a system? How do you take a variety of reform activities to create true continuous improvement?

   “Baldrige isn’t another program or add-on,” notes Risa Regnier, an assistant to Indiana’s state superintendent, “but a way of looking at the organization and improving how you do what you do. It’s not prescriptive, and therefore it appeals to policymakers.” In fact, the Indiana Legislature allows school districts to use Baldrige as an alternative to the state’s performance-based accountability program. “Baldrige can be used by any district no matter where they are on the spectrum,” adds Regnier.

   “I was skeptical about using Baldrige at first,” admits Nancy Gramsick, a Maryland education executive. Maryland, like all states, did not lack in education reforms. High-stakes-tests however revealed that a number of kids were left behind. “The need to address the disparity in performance between minority and majority students, coupled with overwhelming support from the education community for using Baldrige, is what changed my mind,” notes Grasmick.

   As the two-year pilot program comes to a close, what is next? Siegel’s hope is that the reform will spread to other states. “We hope to share the experience among the six states and position them to tell their stories to others.” One new tool that will help other states is an interactive database currently being developed by BiE-IN. This database will provide a just-in-time approach for teachers to talk to each other and identify best practices being used from the classroom to the district and state. “The hope is that this will allow individuals to benchmark in a much more rigorous manner,” notes Siegel.

   The impetus for American companies to embrace quality over 30 years ago was the competition from Japan. So, what is the driving force for education reform? It’s the call for accountability from our school systems. Since the Baldrige Criteria are based on the success of those companies that successfully met the rallying call of global competitiveness, it is only natural to believe that the same Criteria will aid those school systems that face the challenge of new and more rigorous standards for education. The end result? Siegel’s dream of systems that promote, encourage and make life long learning possible might become reality.

August 2001 News for a Change Homepage

 In This Issue...
Championing Change
Training The Trainee
Teaming For Tomorrow
Quality From The Ground Up

The Road To Quality

Peter Block Column
Views for a Change
Brief Cases

Return to NFC Index

  • Print this page
  • Save this page

Average Rating


Out of 0 Ratings
Rate this item

View comments
Add comments
Comments FAQ

ASQ News