Quality Control and Kids

Here’s the problem as I see it with today’s education policies. Businesses and governments are accountable - to stock holders and to voters. In the business world you can usually find a correlation between what you put into a business and what you get out of it.

In a business model, you ensure quality raw materials, resources and components go in as inputs. In doing so, you can be reasonably sure the outputs will also be of good quality, fit for purpose, and able to show a return on investment.

Governments, particularly those supported by businesses, want to be able to show returns on investment. They want to be able to measure what went in, measure what comes out and then provide a “value for money return on investment” statement. 

Governments have turned their attention to education and are seeking to apply the same principles.


Dr W Edwards Demming was brought in by the Japanese government after WW2 to look at their management systems and processes. He looked at their system of performance pay and famously set up an example for Captains of Industry. Dr Demming put a smaller number of red balls into a box with a larger number of white balls. “Workers” were invited to step up and blindly choose a ball. If they picked a red one they got a performance bonus. If they chose a white one, no reward. 

His point was, the workers had no control over the outcome.

In simple terms, Dr Demming taught these Japanese Captains of Industry that: 

     they had to devolve responsibility to the workers for their performance

     they had to listen to the person doing the job rather than bring in analysts and time and   

      motion experts

     they needed to make everyone responsible for improvement 

     they needed to share the performance rewards with everyone involved

     teams working as teams would always outperform individuals competing for rewards

     invest in your teams and your individuals

     show loyalty


In specific terms, Deming’s 14 Points on Quality Management:

     Create constancy of purpose for improving products and services.

     Adopt the new philosophy.

     Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality.

     End the practice of awarding business on price alone; instead, minimise total cost by   

     working with a single supplier.

     Improve constantly and forever, every process for planning, production and service.

     Institute training on the job.

     Adopt and institute leadership.

     Drive out fear.

     Break down barriers between staff areas.

     Eliminate slogans, exhortations and targets for the workforce.

     Eliminate numerical quotas for the workforce and numerical goals for management.

     Remove barriers that rob people of pride of workmanship, and eliminate the annual rating or 

     merit system.

     Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement for everyone.

     Put everybody in the company to work accomplishing the transformation.


After WW1 the economies of Germany and Italy collapsed. The Deutsche Mark and the Lira were worth nothing. They blamed the rest of the world, got angry and went to back to war.

After WW2 Japan was demoralised and defeated. It also faced the aftermath of two nuclear bombs falling on two of its leading cities. They did not blame the rest of the world, get angry and go back to war. They sought advice, got thinking and got to work.

Japan’s economy did not collapse. In fact, Japan’s economy soon outpaced America’s. Japan soon led the world as an industrialised nation. 

Dr W Edwards Demming is revered by the Japanese nation, and the Japanese people. America did eventually realise they had missed the bus, but the practices at so many major corporations were the antithesis of Demming’s Total Qulaity Management, that America’s economy all but collapsed. General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Goldman Sachs - all these massive corporations ended up in impossible debt and disfunction because they ignored Demming’s TQM. 

Instead they followed a culture of paying obscenely massive benefits and bonuses to their CEOs and managers - even when their companies made massive losses. Now those same - Goldman Sachs for example - executives are working for the US government, employed by Bush, and pushing the same ideology that got America into such an horrific mess.


So back to the problem as I see it, with education. Ministry and government officials want to pay teachers for their performance. Think back to Demming’s example. You reach in blindly and if you get the red ball…

It’s the same principle here. 

What if teacher A gets three children with Attention Deficit Disorder, one with Hyperactivity, one Foetal Alcohol syndrome child, one spoilt child who has no boundaries at home, two freshly arrived refugee children with no English, 15 local children who have English as their second or third language, seven children who have not been to pre school and - well you get the picture.

There are many, many classrooms where this is a typical intake.


Teacher B meanwhile receives 18 children because their school can afford to lower class sizes due to financial support from their community. Those 18 children are predominantly New Zealand European. They have all been to pre-school, they all have books in their homes, they all have had language-rich experiences as they grew up, they all have learned their alphabet, colours and numbers to 20 before starting school. Their parents are educated, have good jobs and high expectations.

There are many, many classrooms where this is a typical intake.


So for the sake of society as well as the sake of the children, which children need the better teacher?

Would it be fair to say the children in Teacher B’s class are going to progress beautifully whether Teacher B is any good or not?

Would it be fair to say Teacher A could work her fingers to the bone and still have a number of children making limited progress?

Are the non problematical children in Teacher A’s class going to be able to focus and get the best Teacher A has to offer if she is constantly “managing” the challenging children?


Take this one step further. What if you are the parent od a special needs child? Is a teacher going to want to teach your child if it is going to put their performance bonus at risk by having your child in their class?


Each child we have the blessing to educate is unique. Each child, according to Sir Ken Robinson, “is a fountain of possibilities.” Children can’t be considered to be outputs. As teachers we must cultivate the right conditions for learning; we must find each child’s passion, talent, and creativity. As teachers we must capitalise on the great diversity in our schools and guide young people to find their talents with the goal of using these to positively contribute to society.

I am not opposed to accountability. Data informs planning and  instruction, but I think many have misinterpreted assessment and how it should be used. The word assess comes from the Latin verb assidire - to sit beside. Instead of doling out test papers, we need to be sitiing beside our learners, having personal conversations about what they know, what they want to know and how to scaffold between the two. 

Hattie’s research is unequivocal - relationships between learner and teacher; constructive, personalised feed back and feed forward; are what make the difference.

Drill and test achieves nothing lasting but may provide data to keep Ministers and voters happy if they do not know any better.

Demming proved that performance pay as the government is promoting, will not work because we must take individual differences, developmental differences, and life experiences into account.


There is no assessment that can accurately assess all children.

There is no one-size-fits-all test, fix, or easy way to measure student academic performance. It is difficult, challenging and messy work. We must abandon the idea that we can fix education with more money, a new program, or a piece of legislation. We can’t legislate learning any more than we can legislate love. Learning is organic, it happens when passion meets opportunity, when a great teacher creates an amazing experience for students to embrace.


Our children need the very best teachers we can provide. Our future rests in the hands of these children who will take over our world - the world we are leaving them is fraught with massive challenges such as we have not confronted before. To face those challenges our children need to be well taught - not just in reading, writing and math, but in thinking, caring, creating, contributing, collaborating, communicating, persisting, and in particular, discerning.


Right now we need discerning people to stand up and say performance pay for teachers is not the answer.

We need to apply Demming’s principles, and Sir Ken Robinson’s.


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