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1 Deming, Schwab, and School Improvement Maurice Holt For some 30 years, beginning in the 1950s, Joseph Schwab wrote extensively about the field of curriculum. His vision was broad: curriculum was not to be conceived narrowly as an agenda for instruction, but as an inquiry into what should be taught and how, always with reference to his five "commonplaces": subject matter; learners; teachers; milieus; and the process of curriculum-making itself.1 Thus directed, the field of curriculum would "continue its work and contribute significantly to the advancement of education."2 In 1940 Schwab had become associated at the University of Chicago with Robert Hutchins's reform movement, aimed at promoting an education that would further the "moral, intellectual, and spiritual" as well as the material.3 As Westbury and Wilkof, editors of Schwab's papers, point out, "virtue and citizenship were the characteristic themes of the entire reforming movement," and Schwab's notion of school improvement retains this moral character.4 Liberal education is a good, defining the character of improvement: "A value is embodied in a stated educational intention . . . [which] then serves as an imperfect guide or pattern for the construction of a curriculum."5 W. Edwards Deming devoted his long life exclusively to the improvement of business practices, rarely glancing toward education. His ideas grew from the notion that if the qualiy of consumer goods were to improve, the causes of variation in the manufacturing process needed study. Further, Deming realized that a telephone or automobile that was reliable and pleasant to use would bring a sense of well-being to its owner, and making them would bring satisfaction to their producers, as well as a stake in the market place. It followed that the pursuit of improvement must reach beyond outputs and profits to the character and virtuous conduct of the manufacturing institution. "Management's job is to create an environment where everybody may take joy in his work" had become a Deming principle by the time he went to Japan in 1946 to advise on the post-war reconstruction of industry.6 Invited in 1980 by the Ford Motor Company to repeat his all-too-palpable Japanese success in America, his list of "Fourteen Points for Transformation" included such unusual suggestions as "cease dependence on inspection." "adopt leadership," and—most surprisingly for a company dedicated at that time to the pursuit of profit through accounting procedures—"eliminate numerical goals" and "drive out fear."7 The use of test results to guide school improvement would be inconsistent with Schwab's view of curriculum, for he had noticed that "a test which is highly valid and at the same time highly useful is not possible in the very nature of the case."8 Equally, the use of profit figures to guide business strategy is anathema to Deming: "It would be poor management... to maximize sales . . . to the exclusion of the effect on other stages of production."9 Both Deming and Schwab insist that judgment be based on the entire context of the institution, and on a sense of what it is good to do in terms of intrinsic purpose rather than extrinsic ends. A business run on Deming's principles will be profitable, just as a school operating a liberal curriculum is likely to come out well in conventional tests. These are important gains, yet incidental to the real purpose of the institution and to the way in which improvement is brought about. Improvement and Change The observation that change does not imply progress is hardly novel, yet the stream of books and articles on the value of educational change as a good in itself seems limitless. Student teachers are urged to become change agents, as if any reflective act will lead to improvement. Deming is explicit on the need to avoid "tampering"—the kind of change that will only make matters worse: Suppose we have been using Method A for a particular task, but we now have some evidence that Method B is better. Do we change to Method B? Not necessarily. If it is only a little better, the change may not be worth the hassle. There may be some evidence that method B is...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-1786
Print ISSN
1085-4908
Pages
pp. 1-12
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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