Needed: Fresh Thinking on Teacher Accountability
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates have both thrown their support behind a new accountability system for teachers. Based on research showing significant variability in teachers’ effectiveness (as measured by their students’ learning), Duncan and Gates propose developing measures of effectiveness to get rid of bad teachers and increase the pay of good ones. It sounds like common sense. Or does it?
This approach was called the “inspection” method by W. Edwards Deming, known as the father of the science of quality improvement. Inspection, he wrote, is not an effective way to improve quality because it has no effect on the process that caused suboptimal results in the first place. Real and continuous improvement, Deming argued, occurs only when the workers themselves study outcome variability and the processes that produce it.
Deming’s alternative to useless “inspection” is simple: Start with a well-defined goal and agreed-on measures for charting progress toward the goal. Then involve workers in studying and improving the process that leads to the desired outcome, using “PDSA” cycles: First, plan an innovation, something worth trying; next, do it; then study the result of the change; and finally, act , whether by trying something else if the innovation didn’t work, modifying the innovation and going through the cycle again, or implementing the innovation as a permanent change in the production process. Over time, PDSA cycles yield permanent improvements in the production process, something that never results from merely inspecting the product and tossing...
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