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Education Reform, Business models and Demming's Cycle.

P. D. R. A new acronym for your list: Part 1.

Choices for Kindergarten children - "Work time" or "Choice time"?
B. Ellor

In visiting classrooms around the city as a substitute, there are some schedule (“Flow of the Day”) details that vary from room to room. In schools fortunate enough to have some time during the day for children’s unscripted choices, we find several different names, and they aren't quite interchangeable:

  • Work time;
  • Choice time;
  • Center Time
  • P.D.R. (Plan, Do, Review)

While there are no hard and fast definitions of any of these, Center Time often refers to scripted activities – Literacy Centers, Math Centers, where the choices are directly linked to the current teaching point for the subject.

Work time and Choice time are more open ended as a rule, but their use refers more to their origins in educational theory. ‘Carolyn Pratt’ and ‘Bank Street’ would most likely be credited with the idea that children -especially in the early grades – should have time for independent exploration. “The work of children is play,” declared both Maria Montessori and Jean Piaget, in rather different ways. Although David Elkind, in his May 2001 article “Thinking about Children’s Play”, would vehemently disagree: (from the Childcare Information Exchange).

Montessori thought that only practical, life-like applications were worthy of play (no fantasy castles and princesses for her!) Piaget divided play and work into assimilation and accommodation, respectively. It is worth including the following quote from Elkind’s article to make the fuzzy misuse of terms more clear:

“The identification of work and play thus ignores an important distinction in all of human thought and behavior. It has another important consequence. It suggests that in play, children are preparing for life. According to this view, when children play doctor, house or police person, they are engaging in activities that will prepare them for taking on adult roles. Yet children are not preparing for life, they are actively living their life. Children’s play takes its meaning from the here and now, not from the future.”

At one end of the spectrum, during open-ended choice times, children pursue the most varied and diverse interests, and teachers facilitate and join them in clarifying/scaffolding their ideas, as well as giving technical support. At the opposite end, with very short time allotments, children at least get to use materials and options they can’t try out at other times. No choice time is ever wasted! As G.K. Chesterton would say, “If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.”

Finally, we take a look at the popular 'P.D.R.' iteration. This particular gem came to my attention through an August 16th 2014 article by David L. Kirp in the New York Times: ‘Teaching is not a business’ .

After a description of the current influence of the business model on education, in which he identifies two camps - either competition or technological innovation - he goes on to say:

It’s impossible to improve education by doing an end run around inherently complicated and messy human relationships. All youngsters need to believe that they have a stake in the future, a goal worth striving for, if they’re going to make it in school. They need a champion, someone who believes in them, and that’s where teachers enter the picture. The most effective approaches foster bonds of caring between teachers and their students.

By which point I am already convinced – YES! Next, he goes on to describe one business innovation that has had a transformative influence, first in Japan (50's), and more recently, on American success (80's) – and devotes the rest of his article to examples of effective implementation.

Business does have something to teach educators, but it’s neither the saving power of competition nor flashy ideas like disruptive innovation. Instead, what works are time-tested strategies.

“Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service”: That’s the gospel the management guru W. Edwards Deming preached for half a century.

He concludes with this statement:

While technology can be put to good use by talented teachers, they, and not the futurists, must take the lead. The process of teaching and learning is an intimate act that neither computers nor markets can hope to replicate. Small wonder, then, that the business model hasn’t worked in reforming the schools — there is simply no substitute for the personal element.

A quick Google search reveals that W. Edwards Deming was a statistician with a gift for applying his findings to the real world – most significantly, in engaging workers and shop-floor operatives in decision making, in contrast to the typical top-down authoritarian model, where workers had no say, despite being the experts in their jobs with valuable contributions to make. (Does that sound familiar, teachers?)

W. Edwards Deming: The Story of a Truly Remarkable Person by Robert B. Austenfeld, Jr. 2001 (pdf format)

Dr Demming’s work, based on that of his mentor, Dr Shewart, used a cycle of the following: P. D. S. A.

  • P. Plan a change or a test, aimed at an improvement
  • D. Do. Carry out the test (preferably on a small scale)
  • S. Study the results. What did we learn? What went wrong?
  • A. Act. Adopt the change, or abandon it, or run through the cycle again.

Since his death in 1993, his work has continued primarily through the American Society for Quality (see website below). Given that the consistent use of his cycle (called either the Shewart Cycle or the Demming Cycle), has yielded phenomenal results for Industry and organizations world-wide, it is hardly a fad. If you read each of the 14 points listed on the ASQ website, your heart will leap in recognition of so many lines in support of the voices of educators throughout the country, as we labor under the misapplication of pseudo-science: Demmings ‘14 points on total quality management’, from the American Society for Quality website.

For example - take #10, in direct reference to the Educational reform movement:

10. Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the work force asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships, as the bulk of the causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system and thus lie beyond the power of the work force.

· Eliminate work standards (quotas) on the (factory) floor.

· Eliminate management by objective.

· Eliminate management by numbers, numerical goals.

· Substitute leadership.

This has not been entirely lost on the Educational community: Here is a link to the Pearl River Department of Education, provided by the ASQ Website, sampled from their implementation plan:

The plan–do–check–act cycle (Figure 1) is a four–step model for carrying out change. Just as a circle has no end, the PDCA cycle should be repeated again and again for continuous improvement.

“The Pearl River, NY School District, a 2001 recipient of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, uses the PDCA cycle as a model for defining most of their work processes, from the boardroom to the classroom.”

Not precisely the same cycle as PDSA, but urging the continual repetition of the components. Throwing out what doesn't work is just as vital as refining and renewing what does, as well as introducing new constructs!

Consider the history and the implications of this research, and in Part 2 of my article, let’s take a look at a more closely aligned application in elementary education.

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