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The Time for Half-Measures is Past

We received the following email from a good friend in Singapore last week:

My kids started a new school this week, the Global Indian International School,
here in Singapore. They also have another 20 odd schools around the world
including USA. Went to orientation session the other week for new parents and
mid point they trotted out a whole section on how the schools use Baldrige as
their assessment process. Fantastic!! Check out their foundation and schools on
the web.

It is great to see the Baldrige footprint continuing to expand overseas. Yet, as we
stand on the precipice of a daunting global transformation, with educational
excellence more important than ever, we have to ask the question: Is Baldrige a
true fit with what is needed to drive true transformational change in education in
large American school systems?

There is no doubt that excellence can be had anywhere. The Washington Post
recently had a
fascinating article about a system consisting of 12 schools "deep in
the Rio Grande Valley" serving kids from communities "so impoverished that
some lack potable water". This system graduated its first high school class in
2007 with 100% of the seniors headed to college. The system's flagship IDEA
College Prep is now ranking 13th among America's public high schools.

The IDEA Principal summarized the key factor behind this achievement: "It's not
magical resources. It's the thinking around the problem. I have no control over what
goes on in the kids' Colonia. But we can create a culture. Kids here feel part of a
family, part of a team, part of something special."

Part of something special. This is where we need to go. In a later quote in the
same article, Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO), who previously ran the Denver
Public Schools among things, stated the challenge: "The burden of proof is not on
the people who want to change the system, the burden of proof is on people who
want to keep it the same."

Our challenge in the Baldrige community is straightforward: Do the Education
Criteria, and our application of them, drive the degree of transformational change
that we will need in the years ahead. Or, do the Criteria manifest too much of a
business as usual mindset that will continue to hinder us?

Here is an example of what we mean.

The other day we heard President Obama on the radio express dismay that 30%
of American students are NOT graduating from high school. Thirty percent!! These
young people will simply not have the skills, discipline, and work ethic to justify
current compensation levels in a globalized economy.

The good news is that Baldrige winners do better. But is it enough? A 2008
National Baldrige Award-winning school system in North Carolina noted in its
application that only 20% of its students were dropping out, compared with almost
40% prior to the start of its Baldrige journey. One out of five students dropping out
from a National Baldrige Award winner.

The school system's mission statement is as follows:

(Our system) will rigorously challenge all students to achieve their academic
potential and to lead productive and rewarding lives. We will achieve this
mission with the support of parents, staff, and the community.

Rigorously challenge all students to achieve their academic potential and lead
productive and rewarding lives, as one out of five fails to graduate.

The intent is not to bust the chops of a system that is working hard; many systems
would do well to emulate this Baldrige winner. But, as advocates for performance
excellence, can we really argue that the Criteria are sound when a system that has
a 2007-08 graduation rate of 80.7% wins the National Award, regardless of what
other improvements have occurred. What does educational excellence mean?

It is a point of pride for the global Baldrige community that the Criteria are similar
enough to promote sharing and best practices across all sectors—manufacturing,
service, small business, health care, government, non-profit, and education—but
maybe it is time to rethink how performance excellence is defined in education.
The stakes are too high to leave any performance cards unturned.