Friday, June 06, 2014

Quality in Education

In a guest post contributed to A View from the Q, Julia McIntosh highlights the 2014 WCQI closing keynote by education reformer Michelle Rhee. Michelle spoke about the poor quality of education in many U.S. public schools. Paraphrasing Michelle: low-quality education results in a low-quality workforce. Another challenge, according to Rhee, is that students in the U.S. are praised for poor performance or for “just showing up.” As a result, they expect to be celebrated for mediocrity, rather than for quality.

Sadly, I share the same experience having raised my two children in a typical middle class Twin Cities, MN  suburb. (MN is known for its relatively high quality educational system- I shudder to imagine how poor the less well funded public educational systems might be...). I can vividly recall participating in a parent-teacher conference with my children where the teachers basically asked the child what grade he/she was aiming for that school year. My child initially stated his goal was a 'C' because..." 'C' was average" - and I got the distinct impression from the teacher that a C was a perfectly acceptable goal because it established a contract between the learner and the instructor. To be fair, this teacher did encourage my child to aim a little higher. Nonetheless, these low expectations are not delivering minimum standards of educational performance, much less helping develop the skills needed to compete in today's highly competitive global society. As a result of poor quality K-12 educational systems, colleges are having to enroll more and more incoming freshman in college prep courses. 5 year college degree programs are fast becoming the norm - creating greater hardship on families struggling to send their children to college, and further increasing student debt. Employers are having to pick up the slack too, delivering more basic reading, writing and math skills training to their workforce.

I reminded my children on numerous occasions that they were not just competing for jobs with other students in their class, school, community or even the U.S. - that their competition is increasingly from overseas. In a 2006 YouTube video "Shift Happens 3.0" Karl Fischer (The Fischbowl) stated an alarming statistic that there are more honors students in India than there are students in the U.S.  High paying, high tech jobs require employees possessing strong STEM skills and competencies.

Now, I am not bashing our teachers and educators, many of whom are committed, dedicated, passionate, hard-working professionals giving 110% to their students. There are many reasons for the decline of our public educational system: years of cost-cutting and neglect, the very nature of global competition, the exponential pace of change, the all-consuming focus on taxation, economic recession, the loss of higher-paying manufacturing jobs, the general decline of the middle-class, etc.  Recalling Maslow's hierarchy of needs, basic physiological needs must be met before one can ascend to self-actualization. Simply stated, our children cannot learn on empty stomachs. In today's "Walmart economy" (a phrase used to describe the characteristically low consumer purchasing power in today's retail-driven economy), many families are forced to turn to the government for nutritional assistance. Public school districts are having to provide nourishing meals for children of low and middle income families to better equip the student to learn, placing even greater burdens on our educational system.

Our educational system, like our highways and roadways, is a strategic asset that is critically important to our national defense and the future and viability of the United States of America. They are essential to a strong, robust economy - to our very survival. The U.S. can no longer ignore the decline of these strategic assets. In terms of recruiters' expectations, today's post-graduate masters degree holds the same value as yesterday's undergrad degree. However, graduate and post-graduate study is not for everyone - nor should it be. Not everyone can afford to go to college; not everyone is cut out for post-graduate study. The good news is we also need more skilled workers. Opportunity abounds for tradesmen and women. In fact, a study recently published by the Manufacturing Leadership Summit states that the age of skilled craftsmen is returning. Paul Tate of the Innovative Enterprise states that "new manufacturing technologies such as 3D printing are providing the catalyst for a resurgence in craftsmanship".
new manufacturing technologies as providing the catalyst for a resurgence in craftsmanship – especially technologies such as 3D printing. - See more at:
new manufacturing technologies as providing the catalyst for a resurgence in craftsmanship – especially technologies such as 3D printing. - See more at:
new manufacturing technologies as providing the catalyst for a resurgence in craftsmanship – especially technologies such as 3D printing. - See more at:

I believe Albert Einstein is credited to have said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Our educational system needs drastic reform. Incremental, even breakthrough, levels of performance are not adequate to stay ahead of our global competition. We need innovation and disruptive change. One such innovation is the concept of the "flipped classroom".  In these times of larger class sizes, the flipped classroom concept utilizes technology - the internet, laptops and notebooks - to deliver online self-paced instruction outside the classroom, thereby allowing the teacher to provide one-on-one hands-on homework assistance to the student in the classroom setting.

Such requirements for innovation and meaningful change are embraced by the Baldrige Criteria as a means to achieve organizational performance excellence. The Pewaukee, WI school district was the education category winner of the 2013 Baldrige Award. Pewaukee is a role model for other public school districts to benchmark.