washingtonpost.com  > Education > Maryland

Montgomery Enrolls Business Model

Students Track Own Progress as Part of Baldrige Plan

By Lori Aratani
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 17, 2005; Page C01

Ask 9-year-old Dayna Gager how she's doing in spelling and she'll pull out a thick, black binder.

Like a mini CEO, she'll use charts and graphs to explain her progress in reading and math. She's especially proud of the multicolored bar chart that boasts an unbroken streak of perfect scores in daily oral-language drills ("That's correcting sentences on the board that are wrong," she explains).

Sherwood Elementary third-graders Brian Ferguson and Dayna Gager carry data books for tracking progress. (Lois Raimondo -- The Washington Post)

This is third grade at Montgomery County's Sherwood Elementary School -- Baldrige-style.

Malcolm Baldrige, who served as the secretary of commerce under President Ronald Reagan until his death in 1987, created a management philosophy that has helped the efficiency of businesses that make everything from pies to identification tags. Now the Baldrige model is being used to do the same in Montgomery public schools.

"This is the synthesis of the best research in organizational management out there,'' said Michael Perich, the county's coordinator of systemwide continuous improvement. "It tells us what high-performing organizations do that works."

Under the Baldrige model, organizations -- in this case, Montgomery schools -- define what their missions are, then use those missions to guide them as they move through a school year. They embrace a philosophy that relies on facts and other data for decision making. They seek feedback from everyone, not just those in offices, and they embrace the mantra of continuous improvement.

The Montgomery system, which began using the Baldrige approach in a handful of schools in 2001, was honored recently by the state as the organization that best "exemplifies" the Baldrige philosophy in Maryland. The hope is that the Baldrige model will be used at every campus by fall 2006. And though no independent research exists on the program's effectiveness in a school setting, educators in such systems as Florida's Pinellas County -- a district roughly the size of Montgomery's -- say it works.

"It gives you a structure,'' said Mary Beth Coarse, who oversees the Pinellas County Quality Academy. "It breaks it down into manageable action parts and gives you measures to monitor the process. We always thought we were doing a good job, but couldn't measure it.''

In the 1990s, Oklahoma-based Bama Cos. -- which supplies hot apple pies to McDonald's restaurants -- used Baldrige principles to revamp their business model.

Today, business is booming. Bama's sales increased 47 percent over five years while much of the rest of the baked-goods industry remained flat. And its revenue grew from $120 million in 1999 to more than $200 million last year.

Make no mistake: No one, least of all Montgomery County School Superintendent Jerry D. Weast, is saying that educating children is like knocking out the pies that Bama has become known for. But educators here see merit in the Baldrige approach.

Larry Cuban, a professor emeritus of education at Stanford University and author of "The Blackboard and the Bottomline: Why Schools Can't Be Businesses," said such models can work for schools but that they are not a panacea.

"Businesses and schools are overlapping organizations that can learn from one another, but they are quite distinct,'' he said. And while it's important for schools to measure how many spelling words a student has learned, business models cannot always quantify other skills, such as good citizenship or the ability to get along with others, Cuban added.

Still, school systems are willing to give the business model a try.

Sherwood Elementary in Sandy Spring, for example, has given all its students "data notebooks." Kids as young as kindergarten are responsible for setting goals for their learning and for tracking how close they are to reaching them. The data notebooks go home daily, so that the parents or another adult family member can monitor the child's progress. The parents can respond to what they see by writing notes in the books for the teachers and vice versa.

"It helps me feel more connected to the school,'' said parent Sohaila Nikkhah, whose daughter Samantha is a first-grader at Sherwood. "Before, I sort of knew how she was doing. Now, it's right in front of me and I can see where she needs help."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company


Business Schools

  •  Colleges and Universities

  •  Continuing Education & Professional Development

  •  Distance Learning

  •  Graduate Schools

  •  Law Schools

  •  Medical & Nursing Programs

  •  Private Schools

  •  Summer Schools

  •  Technology Training