Monday, April 17, 2006

2 Million Children Left Behind: Management by Arbitrary Numerical Goals

April 17, 2006

Dear President Bush,

Your “No Child Left Behind” education initiative is leaving millions of children worse than behind. They are left out altogether.

"States are helping public schools escape potential penalties by skirting the No Child Left Behind law's requirement that students of all races must show annual academic progress. With the federal government's permission, schools deliberately aren't counting the test scores of nearly 2 million students when they report progress by racial groups, an Associated Press computer analysis found. Minorities - who historically haven't fared as well as whites in testing - make up the vast majority of students whose scores are being excluded, AP found. And the numbers have been rising."

What would Dr. Deming say about your star program?

“The improvement of education and the management of education require application of the same principles that must be used for the improvement of any process, manufacturing or service.”

That means an understanding of systems, knowledge, variation and psychology and their interactions. Dr. Deming would be incensed that 2 million people in the system are virtual ghosts. What does that do to their self esteem? He would chide you for the internal competition built into No Child Left Behind. This causes people to focus on beating others vs. doing good work for the customers.

Dr. Deming would suggest that any idiot can set an arbitrary numerical goal, but leadership is necessary for real improvement to occur. Needed are a system focus, an understanding of measurement and variation, planned changes with follow up, and a focus on removing barriers to intrinsic motivation. Monetary incentives and internal competition are anathema to real improvement. However, they frequently produce sub-optimization via cheating or fudging on the numbers as seen in this study.

Your management practices are deeply flawed. Although your administration uses the word “continuous quality improvement” it bears no resemblance to Dr. Deming’s teachings and rich history of successful implementation. Does Josh Bolten know anything about this important management theory or is he just another hack? Write me back, I want to know.

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