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U.S. Developing Award To Honor Quality Management in Schools

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Schools swept up in the movement known as Total Quality Management likely will soon be able to compete for their own national recognition awards.

The Commerce Department, which administers the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award program, an honor that recognizes a few businesses each year for their commitment to improvement in the quality of their products, is developing similar awards in education and health care.

"It's early in the planning stages, but we've been asked by the Secretary of Commerce to use the criteria to establish a Baldrige-type award for education,'' said Harry Hertz, the deputy director of the Baldrige program in the department's National Institute of Standards and Technology.

"We are going out broadly to the education community to ask for input on the desirability and appropriateness of an award, and what criteria should be used,'' he added.

In the past few years, school districts have embraced the tenets of Total Quality Management, which include a strong focus on "customer'' satisfaction and a set of statistical tools and decisionmaking techniques that encourage workers to constantly improve the processes of a complex organization. (See Education Week, March 11 and 18, 1992.)

Some states have established quality-recognition programs that have been open not just to businesses, but also to school districts and government agencies. The Baldrige program has been open only to companies since its inception six years ago.

Mr. Hertz said his office hopes to run a test competition by 1995 in which districts and universities could undergo the rigorous self-assessment that is a hallmark of the program. No awards would be given in the test year, he said.

"Assuming everyone is comfortable with it, we would then go for permission to establish awards, presumably in 1996 or 1997,'' he said. New Baldrige-award categories can be established if the Secretary of Commerce notifies Congress, Mr. Hertz said.

Proponents of instilling quality principles in education say the recognition program is a good idea, primarily because it would encourage institutions to assess themselves according to the award criteria.

"It gives people important tools to make change,'' said Peggy Seigel, the vice president for business/education projects at the National Alliance of Business and a Baldrige-award examiner for corporate applicants this year.

David Gangel, the superintendent of the Rappahannock County, Va., schools, said his system has used the Baldrige business criteria for two years to assess its quality efforts, which began four years ago.

"Once an organization gets involved in the quality process, you wonder how are you doing,'' he said. "You want to do a self-assessment.''

Words of Caution

But Lewis A. Rhoades, the deputy executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, cautioned against an overemphasis on awards for educational institutions.

"The one thing we know is it should not be a competition,'' he said. "Schools don't need another reason for putting them down because they aren't winners.''

The A.A.S.A. favors a recognition program of some sort, however, and is working with the Commerce Department on the criteria.

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