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What Quality Guru W. Edward Deming Had To Say About Reforming and Improving Public Education

Dr. W. Edwards Deming

Dr. W. Edwards Deming

In 1992 I was a teacher member of the “Quality Committee” for West Carrollton Schools. Our goal was to study Total Quality Management and make recommendation of how to incorporate its principles in West Carrollton. As part of this study, everyone on the committe (selected West Carrollton teachers, administrators and some parents) read William Glasser’s great book, “The Quality School.”

Quite unexpectedly, our Quality Committee received an invitation for two of our members to attend a four day seminar conducted by the foremost acknowledged guru of the quality movement – W. Edwards Deming — at no charge. The Assistent Superintendent of West Carrollton Schools, David Weekly, and I were selected to attend and we traveled to Florida where the seminar was conducted. It was a great experience. We helped with the seminar organizer with the grunt work and details of the seminar in exchange for free attendance. Dr. Deming was 92 years old at the time and lived but one more year — very active up to the last.

I got a chance to have a 25 minute interview with Dr. Deming, and I wrote up all the details in our teacher magazine that I edited. I recently found the copy of this magazine and scanned the articles and made a PDF – which I am posting here.

At the seminar were mostly business leaders who had paid about $1000 to attend. Dr Deming’s general comments and approach to system reform, I believe, speaks to the topics of public education design, general educational theory, and strategies for reforming and improving public education. I’ve frequently quoted Dr. Deming in articles that I’ve written about education. See here, here, and here.

These are my notes from the seminar, with direct quotes from Dr. Deming:

  1. Quality goes down when ranking people.
  2. Reward for good performance may be the same as reward to the weather man for a pleasant day.
  3. Cramming facts into students heads is not learning.
  4. Information is not knowledge.
  5. To learn means to learn theory, not facts and information.
  6. Abolish grades in school, from toddlers on up through the university. When graded, pupils put emphasis on the grade, not on learning.
  7. Customers expect what producers lead them to expect. We didn’t ask for the electric light bulb.
  8. Be guided by theory not by figures. The most important things don’t have figures to go along with them.
  9. You cannot measure performance. If you thought you could, you are wrong.
  10. We know the cost of training, but the benefit we will never know. Why do we do it? We are guided by theory.
  11. Numerical goals are nonsense, hot air. A goal leads to distortion and faking. What is important is how to get there: BY WHAT METHOD? If you can accomplish a goal without a method, then why were you not doing it last year? There is only one possible answer: You were goofing off.
  12. AMERICA 2000 provides a horrible example of goals, but no method. By what method? Example: “High school graduation will be at least 90%” Why not make the goal 95%? What is important is: BY WHAT METHOD?
  13. AMERICA 2000 says, “Every school in America will ensure that students learn.” Sound great, but how, by what method?
  14. Deming’s First Theorem: Nobody gives a hoot about profit — sustained profit — if we did we would operate as a system.
  15. Deming’s Second Theorem: We are ruined by people doing their best without knowledge. There is no substitute for knowledge. Without theory there are no questions, without questions, there is no learning.
  16. The most important losses are unknowable.
  17. Promote joy in work by making the worker part of the system.
  18. Managers talk about getting rid of deadwood, but there are only two possible explanations of why the dead wood exists: 1) You hired deadwood in the first place, or, 2) you hired live wood, and then you killed it.
  19. Boiling water takes a while for you to see any change, then all of a sudden things start to happen. Have faith in the process We must know what changes to make.
  20. There is in any journey an origin and a destination. The origin is the prevailing style of management. The destination is transformation.
  21. Most people don’t know how they are imprisoned by the current practices of management. Hard work, best efforts, and best intentions will not by themselves produce quality.
  22. Transformation of management is required , learning and application of profound knowledge is required. Change is not enough. Change will not do it. It must be transformation. Transformation is like moving from ice to water. We know much about ice. We need to learn about water.
  23. Management in any form is prediction. rational prediction requires theory.
  24. The aim of a system must be clear to everyone in the system. Without an aim, there is no system. Think of a tiger. He has aim. He enjoys life today and assures tigers for the future.
  25. Let me ask you: Is you company a system? — Sure it has people running about, telephones, budgets — But is it a system? Is your company a system or just individual profit centers?
  26. A system must be managed, it will not manage itself. By focusing on a system of quality, everybody wins.
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6 comments to What Quality Guru W. Edward Deming Had To Say About Reforming and Improving Public Education

  • Eric

    Another active thread mentioning Deming and education is here.

  • Good report I enjoyed it a lot I learned a lot from you .

  • rjohnson

    It would be refreshing if our politicians embraced these ideals, or were at least receptive to them. Right now, there is a lot of legislation insisting on setting numerical goals, evaluating teachers, and weakening teachers’ contracts (in order to get rid of the ‘deadwood’. I will be attempting to institute the Deming principles in my classroom – students need to feel empowered to take ownership of their education.

    Thanks for sharing this article.

  • Mike Bock

    Rjohnson, thanks for visiting. I agree that there are Deming principles that can be implemented in an individual classroom, but a central point I get from Deming is that it is the overall system structure that mostly determines whether a system will produce quality or will produce a lack of quality. One challenge, if we seek to be educational thinkers who might positively impact public education, is to create new system designs for the public’s consideration. I’ve announced that I intend on writing a book as a start to answering the challenge: “Public Education in Kettering, Ohio In 2022.”

  • Jimmy

    Interestingly, I too had the privilege, and high honor, of participating in the great man’s 4-day seminar in Cincinnati, Ohio, 7 – 10 March, 1989.

    I still treasure the autographed copy of his book Out of the Crisis.

    I remember to get his autograph it took skipping lunch, and standing in a long line for an hour as he individually greeted all who waited. I always wondered how he did this everyday, and never appeared take a lunch break.

    His “profound knowledge” also had an profound effect on me as I strived to live up to his management philosophy over the subsequent years in my career at WPAFB.

    One foot note, Dr. Deming started his career as a federal employee working for the Census Department where he developed his statistical process control theories. He signed my copy of his book with the federal date format: W. Edwards Deming, 8 March 1989.

    Today, in this “dumbed down” age of pure stupid, we more than ever need his “profound knowledge.”

  • Trey Price

    I attended in 1992 while in the Army. I am a school principal today and still keep my copy of “Out of Crisis” in my office. I can close my eyes and see and hear every word he spoke to me. It was a great experience and the best training I have ever had.

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