Educational Service

1.  Total Quality Management in Education

©2009 Ron Fitzgerald, D. Ed

Total (everyone) pursues continuous improvement (quality) by managing data.
There are 4 components to Profound Knowledge: Systems, Models, Measurement, Teaming.
Quality in any organization depends on everyone working continuously to improve service.  Data must be managed with profound knowledge (below) to achieve quality. 
Profound knowledge was defined by W. Edwards Deming (1900-1993), the "father of the quality movement in Japan and then the United States.  While Deming did not use the term "total quality management," the principles of management that he defined formed the basis for today's quality movement.  He stressed the need for a system approach, the use of knowledge or models (our example being the brain-friendly model for teaching), the use of measurement to reduce variation, and attention to human psychology.  Psychology forms the basis for promoting commitment and teaming on the path to quality.
Here is an explanation  of applying the above principles to pursuit of quality or continuous improvement in education: 

Why get involved with TQM?
TQM is a philosophy and system for continuously improving the services and/or products offered to customers. Now that the technologies of transportation and communication have replaced national economic systems with a global economy, nations and businesses that do not practice TQM can become globally non-competitive rather rapidly. This march towards non-competitiveness can be avoided if citizens are helped to become TQM practitioners. Therefore, the potential benefits of TQM in a school, district or college are very clear:

1. TQM can help a school or college provide better service to its primary customers--students and employers.
2. The continuous improvement focus of TQM is a fundamental way of fulfilling the accountability requirements common
         to educational reform.
     3. Operating a no-fear TQM system with a focus on continuous growth and improvement offers more excitement and
         challenge to students and teachers than a "good-enough" learning environment can provide. Therefore, the climate for
         learning is improved.

What are the essential elements of TQM in education?
In a TQM school or college, improvement teams and individuals are constantly working on improving service to customers. The concept of a service being "good enough" is considered inadequate. Thorough understanding of the differences between traditional and TQM schools is best developed in a dynamic seminar, not in a simple written guide. Therefore, this guide is intended to supplement such a seminar. Each of the following elements is very important for fully realizing the potential of TQM in education:

1. Awareness and Commitment for Everyone
The linguistic, kinesthetic, visual, and/or mathematical talents of a student will not be developed to their fullest potential unless EVERY member of a teaching-learning partnership promotes the highest possible quality at each step in the development process. A transformation from "good-enough" or traditional education (where marks or grades of "A" and "B" are good enough even if they do not represent best work) should begin with everyone being made aware of the potential and the elements of TQM. An excellent way to begin is with a total staff meeting with parents and school board members participating. The meeting can provide:
o A dynamic overview of TQM elements and potential by one or more presenters who have experienced both and
o A clear commitment from the school board, superintendent, and principal that they will fully support TQM efforts
    and that they do not expect (to use the language of W. Edwards Deming) "instant pudding" results.

2.  A Clear Mission 
Managing continuous movement toward progressively higher quality standards depends on defining those standards. If a TQM steering committee is formed in a school (See element #10a.), it should determine the answer to this question--Does the school have a clear, customer-focused mission statement and a functioning process for divisions and/or departments translating this statement into exit outcomes for graduates? If the answer is "no", that problem must be addressed with local, state, national, and employer standards. These standards should emphasize developing students' abilities to solve real-life problems rather than just memorizing subject matter. The latter does not represent quality for either students or employers.

3. A Systems Planning Approach
Traditional education has become excessively compartmentalized. Teacher X provides an English course; science teacher Y might focus heavily on a student's knowledge of scientific principles without paying much attention to developing that student's ability to use English principles in writing a technical report. Subconsciously, the student begins to view English as a "course" instead of as skills to be USED. If higher levels of student competence are to be developed, there must be higher levels of system-wide and cross-department PLANNING for instructional improvement in schools and colleges. Lack of system planning is a serious obstruction to higher quality in student learning. Compare the following SYSTEM  reading development plan in a school with what you know about many narrower traditional remedial reading programs.  Each student reading below a specified grade level on a standardized reading skills test was assigned to one or more strong improvement options.  Teachers in each option kept measuring and improving the effectiveness of their program; for example, the computer-assisted lab program quickly progressed to enrollees gaining an average of three grade levels per school year on a standardized test _ _   
Tjs shows a reading SYSTEM that worked!
As Deming emphasized, such a system approach requires planning leadership and teaming.

4. Teaming Replacing Hierarchy
The hierarchical organizations of yesterday are still dominant in too many businesses and schools. Such organizations tend to promote individual effort "good enough" to satisfy a supervisor who sometimes knows less about how to achieve quality than those he/she supervises. Cross-department teams can and do promote stronger improvement if
 they are:
a. Given a clear mission and strong authority
b. Supported rather than hampered by supervisors.

Support is a major element in the success or failure of TQM. If administrators, supervisors, and department chairpersons support task improvement teams, those teams can generate more motivation and improvement than can otherwise be achieved. If not, TQM cannot achieve its potential. In properly operated TQM programs, administrators and supervisors work diligently at:
a. Insisting on clear visions and missions
b. Coordinating among task or improvement teams
c. Supporting the efforts and authority of improvement teams to the highest possible degree.

These are very critical support actions. Unless administrators and supervisors fulfill them properly, task improvement teams can fail because of this system weakness.

5. Enablement AND Empowerment Replacing Fear
Traditional do-it-to-them evaluation systems by themselves generate fear and lack of initiative. Staff members focus on doing whatever is enough to keep the boss happy. However, if volunteer members of empowered improvement teams are given opportunities to become experts and/or to use experts, that enablement generates excitement and dedication. School districts should support members of quality improvement teams with funding and time for conferences, seminars, visits to other schools, use of consultants, planning and sharing with others, etc. Teams function best if team members are given the background and authority to make informed decisions. Each district and school should define and implement objectives for a strong focus on being a learning organization, an organization in which everyone is a learner on paths to quality improvement.

6. Focus on Mastery Learning
In traditional classrooms, teachers often follow this sequence:
1 Plan-------------------> 2 Teach----------------------> 3 Test
The normal curve that usually results stands as testimony to the fact that many students fail to learn at the highest possible level in this system. The TQM alternative is:
1 Plan--> 2 Teach (DO) --> 3 Check**--> 4 Revised Teaching (ACT) --> 5 Test**
In the "check" step, formative (not-for-grade) testing is used to determine which learning some students have missed. Then non-mastered material is retaught in some different way or style. If advisable, the checking and revised teaching can be repeated more than once. Meanwhile students who have mastered the material move to enrichment learning or assist with instruction of those who have not achieved mastery. This system of mastery learning can result in much more complete learning for most students, in effect, a positive movement of the "normal" curve. This improvement in learning is a basic purpose of TQM in the classroom. For an excellent review of mastery learning, refer to this book:             
                            Implementing Mastery Learning, by Thomas R. Guskey and Terra Schultz (1996, 2nd Edition) 
                            Wadsworth Publishing Company  (available on
                            Belmont, California 94002

7. Management by Measurement
In the section above, you were introduced to an adapted Shewhart Cycle, a basic part of a TQM process. Be aware that measurement is very important in the ** marked steps of this cycle. For example, if a reading teacher used a new computer program in the ACT step to assist students having trouble, he or she might gather data in steps #3 and #5 and plot it in a scatter diagram to investigate the relationship between use of that program and final learning results thusly:

In this example, learning increased directly with time in the program.

If careful analysis showed that the new program promoted strong progress in reading, that would affect planning for future instruction. This management by data rather than by opinion allows objective pursuit of the two basic purposes of TQM in education:
a. Improved learning.
b. Improved cost effectiveness

Excellent books on quality processes and measurement in education are available in a free catalog from ASQ Quality Press; PO Box 3005; Milwaukee, WI 53201-3005. The telephone number is (800) 248-1946; the fax number is (414)272-1734.Member discounts are available to those who join the American Society for Quality. ASQ's web site is State or regional chapters also exist; for example, the web site for the Boston Chapter is

8. Development of Student TQM Skills
In addition to using TQM to improve learning in general, every school district should specifically equip its students to understand and use TQM. This is a basic part of schools contributing to readiness for work in the global economy. Whether a school staff decides to integrate learning TQM into existing courses or to provide it as a separate course, it is important that students DO and not just study about TQM. The best resources in this area are:

a.. Selected books from ASQ Quality Press at the address shown in section #7 above. These books are relevant to student
activities -- (1) THINKING TOOLS FOR KIDS; (2) FUTURE FORCE: KIDS THAT WANT TO, CAN, AND DO!; (3) a CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT SERIES covering science, language arts in primary classrooms, mathematics, and history and social science.

b.  A training program for teachers also available from ASQ.  The program is called ImpaQT; the 2-day training shows teachers how to do TQM in the classroom with students.  Just go to the ASQ web site at and click on  Education  (K-16) on the left of the screen and then select Training &Certification and finally select Education Training  & Certification.  On the final screen, select ImpaQT Training.  This is a solid investment for teachers and students to learn to pursue quality together.

An excellent way to have students live TQM is to establish a system in which student assessment portfolios are dynamic records of constant improvement in which the students can take great pride.

9. A Humanistic and a Brain Compatible Focus in the Learning Environment
Dr. William Glasser has provided one of the best translations of TQM principles into suggestions for a very productive
    learning environment. Every educator can profit from reading his book:

                              The QualitySchool Teacher, by William Glasser, M.D. (1998)
                              Harper-Collins Publishers, Inc.  (available from
                              10 East 53rd St.; New York, NY 10022

It provides information on six conditions for quality schoolwork:
a. There must be a warm, supportive learning environment.
b. Students should be asked to do only useful work.
c. Students should be asked to do the best they can do.
d. Students should be asked to evaluate their own work and improve it.
e. Quality work should always feel good.
f. Quality work should never be destructive.

It is important that educators consider Dr. Glasser's work and suggestions carefully. Working with people is much more complex than manufacturing widgets. Dr. Glasser offers an excellent blueprint for TQM in classrooms in the context of deep sensitivity to human relationships. One of the most productive areas in which a school task improvement team can work is in helping all staff members use more brain compatible techniques in teaching. Over 95% of what we know about how the brain works has been discovered in the last decade. In recognition of this, Federal law has designated the 90's as the "Decade of the Brain". Dr. Glasser's fine work is just one part of information now available on improving effectiveness of teaching.

10. A Transformation Plan
Under element #1, an awareness presentation was recommended as the first step in considering transformation from traditional to TQM operation. Two other basic actions are recommended here:

a. Form a TQM steering committee that--
     (1) Develops a plan for supporting the staff in TQM implementation and

     (2) Builds a positive connection between that committee and the traditional supervisors in the school and/or district

b. Use advice from consultants and/or from schools that have succeeded at TQM transformation.

The latter action is particularly important. People who have learned things the hard way can save you much time and trouble with practical advice on such things as the importance of developing teaming skills, the value of limiting the number of major improvement task forces operating at one time, and the need to select improvement priorities carefully.