I was just reading one of my two “allowed” reads from Education Week online, a commentary by C. Jackson Grayson, Jr., chairman and CEO of APQC, the American Productivity & Quality Center, entitled, “Benchmarking: What It Is, How It Works, and Why Educators Desperately Need It”. The main thrust is to explain what benchmarking is (an active and disciplined set of steps to determine how a best-practice organization achieved a benchmark, then to learn that, and finally to use it in your own organization), and how it could improve the quality of today’s educational system in the US. The section that really caught my attention and made me pause to think follows:
There will be some academicians, researchers, and policy people who will be horrified with my recommendation that all 6 million teachers, principals, and administrators be involved and empowered to search for and adopt any best practice that works for them. Their objections are reminiscent of the management terror evoked in the 1970s and ’80s, when the Japanese automobile industry (Toyota in particular) adopted a model that involved assembly-line workers and empowered them to make decisions that would assure quality control. They could literally “stop the line” until a problem was solved—by them.
U.S. managers said, “It won’t work. Those employees don’t have the judgment, skills, or attitudes to make those decisions. They’ll goof off, quality will go down, costs will rise.” But for those firms that followed the empowerment model, the reverse happened. Quality rose and costs fell, because employees were trusted, trained, and treated as competent professionals. The federal No Child Left Behind Act assumes that educators won’t or can’t make the right choices on hiring teachers and choosing teaching practices. Are educators less committed than business employees? I doubt it.
I suggest that we drop the “highly qualified teacher” and “research-based practice” requirements from the law. Accountability mandates would be kept at current high levels, but administrators and teachers would be involved more directly in reaching them, and empowered to search for and implement best practices that work for them. This is a radical proposition, I realize, but our education system is going to fail under its present behaviors and assumptions about how to improve—namely, by setting high goals and then micromanaging key processes. It was a mistake in business, and is a mistake in education.
I would love to know what you think!
Photo: Old School Sign