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Our public schools are the foundation for American community. They teach students the skills necessary to grow and thrive and become a generation of engaged, responsible citizens. These same schools we rely on are also tragically underfunded, top-heavy, over regulated, often under-performing, and all too frequently the recipient of harsh criticism from the public and political perspective.
If public schools were a private business, they would be currently bankrupt because of out dated policies from high level executives, despite the heroic efforts from those workers on the front-line (teachers).
In a more traditional setting, this situation would be screaming for intervention from even basic six sigma training. We can all recognize the classic signs of a top-heavy, inefficient system that ignores the needs and wisdom of workers on the front line.
If students, parents, and communities are the customer, how can we meet their diverse and complex demands with Six Sigma?
While many of the necessary changes may be several decades off at the national level, local schools, principals and communities are finding success by implementing new policies within their building.
These successes look like:
Staff meetings structured around teacher input, not administrative agenda.
Data driven reflection. Many teachers today are getting extensive training in how to read the successes and struggles they have with teaching different concepts based on simple, on-going assessments of student learning. These are NOT massive end of year tests, however. The most effective form of data driven growth is small, daily assessments of writing samples, math problems of the day or even ‘exit tickets’ to quickly demonstrate whether a student got it.
Moving away from the baking soda volcano. Although a perennial favorite, the classic school project, this is a strong example of an activity which is often unrelated to a clear outcome. Teachers are being asked today, to consider how each lesson, activity, and even worksheet directly builds towards student understanding of a clearly defined outcome (i.e. a skill for students to master).
Hearing from the customer. Yes, that means listening to student ideas. Many schools give out regular student surveys about teachers and classes to gather feedback directly from the ‘customer’ about how effective the lessons are. Good teachers develop personal relationships with their students to understand their diverse needs. Parents and communities in successful school districts are also regular voices at school board meetings and ‘coffee with the superintendent.’
Although these are only a few examples, there is a clear correlation between the needs of our education system and the skills provided by Six Sigma training.