Baldrige Education Criteria:
“Flavor of the Month”
or the
Road to World Class Schools?

by Marilyn Caldwell and Jim Shipley

 What is Baldrige?

At a recent Jim Shipley & Associates (JSA) Orientation to Performance Excellence workshop, the facilitator opened the training by asking the superintendents, principals, and teachers in attendance to envision, “What would a truly high performing classroom look like, sound like, feel like?” The responses filled three sheets of chart paper and included:

“So, what would it take to make this happen?” asks the facilitator. Several participants laughingly suggested, “That’s why we’re here. If we knew, we’d have done it already!”

This is the dilemma for many educators – how do we build what we intuitively know would be a high performing system of learning? How do we take the good parts of the current education system, continually improve them and guarantee that the parts work well together?  Such is the value-add of the Baldrige Education Criteria for Performance Excellence.

 So what is ‘Baldrige’? The Baldrige is a set of criteria that assess a combination of three interrelated aspects common to all systems. It is first of all a measure of the capacity of various system components and connections. The Baldrige Criteria force us to assess the system components and determine how well they are working together to achieve the organization's goals. Baldrige is also a process for determining which components and which connections add value and which do not add value. Finally, Baldrige is a blueprint for guiding the development of a well-connected system capable of high performance.

The Baldrige Criteria, when fully implemented, result in a well-aligned, well-coordinated and integrated system of practices capable of meeting and exceeding the needs, expectations, and requirements of its stakeholders.  Developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the late 1980’s, the Baldrige Criteria originally focused on the continual improvement of business and industry. In 1998, Congress dedicated resources to the expansion of the Criteria to include health care and education. Forty-six states, through state quality award initiatives, have adopted the Baldrige Criteria as a local strategy for improving business, industry, government, education and health care organizations. In November 1999, six states – Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, New Mexico, Ohio, and Texas - launched the Baldrige in Education Initiative (BiE IN) jointly sponsored by the National Alliance of Business and the American Productivity and Quality Center. In each of these six states, key system leaders are using the Baldrige Criteria to create state education systems that work seamlessly together at every level to produce high levels of learning.

What has Baldrige done for school districts and for State Departments of Education?

The case for the use of Baldrige grows daily. The State of North Carolina has documented dramatically improved academic results for students of all demographic backgrounds over a three-year period. For over nine years, Brazosport Independent School District in Texas has seen a positive trend of improved student performance combined with a narrowing of the gap between socio-economic and demographic groups through the use of Baldrige-based improvement strategies. District 59, Palatine, Illinois, attributes its increased student success to the process of alignment, assessment, feedback and improvement that the state-level Baldrige process in Illinois provided. Currently, Departments of Education in the six BiE IN states are using the Baldrige Criteria to build systems capable of supporting high performance at the district, school and classroom level. Ohio State Superintendent Dr. Susan Zelman and New Mexico State Superintendent Dr. Michael Davis are forging the most comprehensive applications of the Baldrige Criteria at the state level.  Both state leaders are using the Baldrige Criteria to assess the capacity of their departments of education and to design approaches to support and lead their state reform and accountability efforts. A teacher at Albuquerque High School best described the positive impact of using the Baldrige Criteria from the state house to the schoolhouse when she said, "When Baldrige becomes a reality we’ll all be saying ‘Oh goody, the Department of Education people are coming to our school!’ ”  As we all know, her observation does not reflect the general sentiment of school-based educators toward either departments of education or their own district-level staff. 

What is the training like?

Learning to use Baldrige generally begins with an orientation to the categories and core values of the Criteria and focuses on answering the questions:  Why Baldrige? Why now? Why me?  Participants in JSA Orientation to Performance Excellence workshops develop a working understanding of the Criteria by addressing six improvement steps:

1.      Validate the need for improvement.
2.      Clarify organizational purpose, goals, and measures.
3.      Adopt and deploy Baldrige as the organization-wide approach to continual improvement.
4.      Translate the Baldrige approach into aligned action at all levels of the organization.
5.      Analyze the results and make improvements.
6.      Repeat the cycle.

Determining how each step will be addressed helps participants balance the theory of Baldrige and continual improvement with purposeful, aligned action. Participating in an entry-level Baldrige system assessment of their department or district, school and/or classroom allows workshop attendees to experience Baldrige in a user-friendly manner while gathering data on the strengths and opportunities for improvement of the organization.

What are the results of the training?

Training that focuses on increasing awareness of the value-add of Baldrige while at the same time building capacity in participants to use the Criteria packs a double punch. Understanding the linkages inherent in the Criteria allows educators to see the disconnectedness of the current system of education:  instructional processes that have no connection to goals; goals that have little connection to stakeholder requirements; data on-hand versus the data needed for decision making; training and education efforts that do not support goal-impacting processes.  “Finally, I understand not only WHAT I need to do, but HOW to do it. All I needed was a Baldrige blueprint,” said one recent Orientation participant. “It’s time to improve all the parts of the system and more importantly, the connections between the parts.” 

The AASA Quality Network is sponsoring two-day national seminars conducted by Jim Shipley & Associates entitled “Continuous Improvement in Education Using the Baldrige Criteria”.  For detailed information you may download the seminar flyer, contact AASA Quality Network at 1-800-603-5306 or Jim Shipley and Associates at 727-595-9400

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