Why our Public Schools are Failing — Part One

Grading our Teachers, Schools and Districts on Student Test results- Has it worked to improve K-12 Education?

I am a stickler for the facts, but they can be annoying to those who have a stake in the outcome, and must be hidden when they fail to support the desired conclusion.  This is the case with Common Core and the testing systems that are now robbing our children of up to 40% of their valuable class time for learning, while costing taxpayers billions.  Let’s see how this all happened.

Here’s the premise which was used to support High Stakes Testing:

Teachers, Schools and Districts will try harder to perform when their performance is measured.   “If you don’t measure it, you don’t care about it,” we have heard from proponents like Governor Jeb Bush, who implemented stringent measures in Florida and promoted High Stakes Testing throughout the nation.

The second premise:

Teachers, Schools and Districts will try harder still if we reward and punish them based on results.  After all, we do know incentives work, right?  Adding high stakes consequences such as whether a child is promoted to 4th grade or graduates, whether a teacher or administrator keeps their job, or earn sometimes large bonuses.

The third premise:

Testing student results gives an accurate measure of teacher, school and district performance.

Now on the surface these seem to be logical assertions.  As a student, implementer and teacher of many performance improvement systems like Statistical Quality Control (SQC) by W. Edwards Deming, and Total Quality Management (TQM) as modified by Hewlett Packard, and the Malcolm Baldrige Award, I have personally experienced dramatic results.

As with most far reaching theories and systems of management, implementation does not always produce the desired results, however, and conflicts may arise as in this analysis by MIT.

And here are the results from over 40 years of data from the Cato Institute showing such is the case with High Stakes Testing:

We see here the unsustainable hockey stick of money spent against the declining performance of student learning.  In short, we are not getting ANY bang for the astronomical increase in cost to taxpayers.

What we HAVE seen is massive growth in bureaucracy and overhead growth in school employment to manage useless programs:

What can and has gone wrong in applying these measurements and incentives in education?

One of the first principles learned in quality control is that there is a process we are trying to improve.  In education, that seems simple.  We want children to learn more, be smarter and more successful.  We will return to this later in Part two as this may not actually be as simple as it seems.

Edwards Deming, the Father of Quality Control, created a wonderful lesson to demonstrate why the carrot and stick approach does not work in education or any other environment where the workers do not control the process. This is a short version of the “red Bead” demonstration:

Here’s a longer and more complete written version of this important demonstration.

The results of the demonstration show the following:  Lessons Learned from the Red Bead Experiment

  1. All the variation comes from the process. There was no evidence that any worker was better than another.
  2. The workers could, under no circumstances, do any better. The best people doing their best work does not matter. Therefore, as managers, we must not rush to blame employees. We must improve our processes and make them so robust that it produces acceptable products no matter who runs it. So, when a problem with a process occurs, we must first investigate what went wrong with the process. If we find the process to be in order, we can then begin to determine if there was an operator error.
  3. Pay for performance can be futile. The performance of the workers was governed by the process.
  4. Inspection after the process is complete does not improve quality but merely catch defects before they leave the plant. The quality inspectors in the red bead experiment were not adding value to the process. They are there just to make sure defective product did not reach the customer. Since no inspection process is perfect, we can assume that even with 2 quality inspectors, some defective product still made it to the customer. As managers, we must instill quality efforts at all stages of the process so that defects can be caught as soon as they are made rather than discovering them after we have performed more valued added activities to them. The beads may have been defective when we received them from our supplier, but with “end-of-the-line” inspection, we will not discover them until we have wasted a lot of time and effort working on them.
  5. Clear instructions to workers will only increase the probability that the process will behave as intended. Clear instructions will not improve a process that is out of control (a process that has wild variation from day to day).
  6. Intimidation creates fear which does nothing to improve a process.
  7. Praise will encourage a person to perform the process as they have learned to perform it. It will not improve a process.
  8. Banners and Slogans raise the awareness of quality as an issue to be concerned with, but also tells people that management believes that a reminder is required to produce a quality product, thus creating an environment of mistrust.
  9. Incentives will not improve a process and have a short effect on employee morale.
  10. The process has natural variation. Each day the process will produce data different from the day before within a natural range of values. We must collect data about the process to understand the range and variance of the variation.
  11. To satisfy the customer consistently, the process must be capable of meeting customer requirements. If the customer’s requirements are tighter than we can produce on a consistent basis, then we will only produce acceptable products by accident.

When we substitute teachers into the study, we can see they do not control the process.  They are given standards, curriculum, and tests.  They do not control who they are teaching, and they must teach at the same pace across the country, so no children can get extra help in the classroom, nor can they move ahead of the pace.  They are a perfect example of a group which should never be praised or blamed unless and until they regain control of their “process” of learning.

There are horrible Unintended Consequences we have seen as a result of the obsession with using the carrot and stick approach rather than improving the processes of education.


Because the process is flawed, (common core standards, curriculum, tests) our teachers and administrators can’t achieve the goals before them.  In order to excel, they must cheat, and that is occurring on a massive scale.   One principal caught cheating took her own life.

Others went to jail in Atlanta.

The Superintendents of Lee and Collier County in Florida were forced to resign over cheating scandals.


Rather than admit failure, another way the entire system cheats is by changing the metrics.  Rather than relying on nationally normed tests and using the same one over time for valid comparison, new tests and methods obscure declining results, comparing apples to oranges.   The SAT, the GED and now the ACT test have been changed.  No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top mandates each state to create its own test and provide the results to the USDOE.  Those tests have left the entire country in complete chaos while absorbing precious education dollars from the classroom.


Teaching to the test narrows curriculum.  Because the test scores mean everything to the teachers and administrators, they limit their instruction to only what is on the tests.  Music, recess, extracurricular enrichment activities of all kinds are eliminated to focus on what counts to them: THE TEST.

As a result of misapplied metrics (VAM scores) and the loss of local control in the classroom, the teachers and administrators have been leaving the profession in record numbers for years.  This is accelerating as the joy of learning and the love of teaching has been driven out of our schools.


It is nice to know how our schools and students rank around the country, and we have this ranking available.  US NEWs produces a report evaluating our schools.

Instead of relying on an unbiased national resource, however, Florida uses scores based on our proprietary and experimental test, the FSA and before that, FCAT.  Gary Chartrand, our Florida State Chair of the Board of Education, stated in the October 2013 meeting held in Tampa, that the current grades for schools and districts were statistically invalid.  Then he and the rest of the board voted to continue that fraud perpetrated on the public.

As an example In Lee County, Island Coast High school has 21.3% of the students who are proficient enough to be “college ready.”  Students from that school scored 46% proficient in math and 39% proficient in reading and yet THIS school is rated an A school.  These are failing grades in anyone’s book.

The ACT has been a reliable measure over decades and finds Florida at #47 in the nation.  While the national scores have declined, Florida has declined even faster and yet has been touting its results through tortured treatment of its own, insular data.

In summary:

The processes we have employed, High Stakes Testing and Common Core, have not resulted in gains as hoped by well-intended politicians.  Results show quite the opposite.  It’s time we stop experimenting with our children and return to what has worked for centuries and what continues to work today for Home Schools and Private Schools.

One size does not fit all.  In fact, the more individual education becomes, the more students flourish.  Any statistician will tell you that it is a huge mistake to make a decision on a single data point, and that is the definition of High Stakes Testing.  Children’s lives are changed through unnecessary diversion programs or held back even when their portfolios show they are model students.

Teachers know how well their students are doing.  They should do as teachers had done before, grade assignments and class tests to produce a report card.  Using their teaching skills, they can personally address individuals and inspire them using the extra 40% of time freed up by elimination of extra testing which does not inform or educate.   An occasional nationally normed test confirms that the student is learning and can also measure schools, districts and states.


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  1. […] This is part two in a series of articles on the complex issues surrounding the national debate over the controversial Common Core. To read Part I click here. […]

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