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To the Editor:

The controversy over the firing of Adele Jones from her high-school-mathematics teaching post in Georgetown, Del., seems to epitomize W. Edwards Deming's position that a goodly majority of errors in organizations can be attributed to the system rather than to people ("Not Making the Grade: Teacher's Firing Spurs Debate Over Standards, Expectations for Students,'' Sept. 15, 1993).

While the Georgetown case evokes my comments, it would be presumptuous of me to address those events directly. My intent, rather, is to raise the question of what might have happened or might not have happened, were the Georgetown schools governed by a different paradigm. The relevant elements of such a paradigm follow.

1. A school district's stakeholders together construct a district vision and explicit quality expectations for all of its graduates as general parameters for what is to go on in the schools. The vision and expectations are informed by reasoned predictions of what children will need for success in their adult futures.

2. Guided by the district vision and expectations, a school's stakeholders collaborate within and across schools to build a school vision, quality expectations for all students, and education plans that include curriculum, quality benchmarks, teaching/learning strategies, and program and student-assessment standards and rubrics:

  • Curriculum, teaching/learning, and assessment are interwoven threads in the schooling tapestry.
  • The normal curve vanishes; agreed-upon benchmarks and standards form the bases for assessing what students have derived from schooling (and life experience) and their skills in applying learning within real-world contexts.

3. Teachers and administrators and, yes, parents and students hold students to the quality standards, but, at the same time, slay the Time Tyrant. They accept what their own experience has shown: Children vary in the time it takes them to master something. Thus, time, not expectations, is variable. Students are neither held back from moving ahead when they are ready nor branded failures when they need more time (or enrichment). As one result, no general effort need be expended on "self-esteem.''

4. Everyone is accountable, from school board member to student. The stakeholders together define where accountability lies for each. The system monitors and acts to support the members of the schooling community to carry out their responsibilities. The system recognizes and makes use of the good stuff. It also expeditiously identifies problems and errors, first inquiring as to whether the causes lie within the system itself.

As an interesting exercise, reread the article in the context of these paradigm elements. What might have happened differently? In fact, what are the chances that this situation would have come about at all?

Richard S. Weiner
Albany, N.Y.

The writer recently retired as director of work on restructuring schools with the New York State Department of Education.

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