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Educational Reform Failing K-12 Students, Educator Says


Thomas Kelly, Ph.D., and Joyce Orsini, Ph.D., director of the Deming Scholars Program at Fordham’s Graduate School of Business Administration.
Photo by Michael Dames

Educational reform has failed to substantially increase K-12 student achievement despite a “massive expenditure of resources,” but the system can be improved if some of the concepts of the influential quality-control expert W. Edwards Deming are applied to schooling, said a former New York Department of Education official at Fordham University on Feb. 13.

Speaking at the 13th annual International Deming Research Seminar at the Fordham Graduate School of Business Administration (GBA), Thomas F. Kelly (M.A. ’70, Ph.D. ’78), said that the educational system suffers from a structural problem in which students are required to adjust to the system—not the other way around.

Currently, he said, if students in middle or high school have poor literacy or English skills, they are pulled out of class and given an hour of individual instruction but are then sent back to sit through six or seven other subjects for which they do not have the necessary language abilities to learn effectively.

“This structure has failure built in,” said Kelly, who spent 30 years as teacher and administrator in New York City and New Jersey and served as regional manager of the New York Department of Education’s Effective Schools Consortia. “It is also probably the single greatest cause of discipline problems, attendance problems and drop outs. Would you stay in school when 80 percent of what was being taught was in a language you did not understand? This is a form of unintended child abuse.”

The research seminar was sponsored by the Fordham Deming Scholars M.B.A. Program, the Washington, D.C.-based W. Edwards Deming Institute, and the Deming Cooperative, and included nearly 40 presenters on various aspects of Deming’s theories and their extension to fields outside of management.

The Deming Scholars program integrates business courses with Deming’s theories and practical business experience. The business school had a close relationship with the late management consultant, who served as senior advisor to the program.

Deming is best known for teaching Japan’s top management how to improve manufacturing design and product quality after World War II, and is credited with playing an essential role in fostering that nation’s industrial rebirth and emergence as an international economic force.

He developed a system of profound knowledge and 14 principles for transforming business effectiveness. Kelly said there are number of principles developed by Deming that can applied to the educational system, most notably his notion that many ongoing organizational problems can be solved by focusing on the system’s structure and its deficiencies.

Deming also called on organizations to recognize people’s different abilities, capabilities and aspirations. It’s a lesson, Kelly said, that the American educational system has not heeded. Instead, it’s turned itself into a one-size-fits-all, mass-production system where the individual needs of young people are often overlooked to the detriment of their learning.


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