Deming in Education: Education as a System

By John Hunter, founder of

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In this podcast (download) David Langford becomes the first repeat guest. David is the CEO and founder of Langford International and a Deming Institute Advisory Board member.

David continues discussing his thoughts on using Deming’s ideas to improve education. By looking at education as a system and examining what the goals are you find a need to change the focus of school.

It is easy to compare grades on a test. But it is highly questionable if those numbers tell you much. Many studies show students will study for a test and then forget nearly everything so they have no long term learning. When you focus on test results it sure seems like focusing on what is easy to measure instead of what is really desired. As Ackoff put it (f-law 51, from his book Management f-Laws):

Managers who don’t know how to measure what they want settle for wanting what they can measure.

What David talks about is the importance of creating powerful learning experiences. Those experiences students will retain that learning over the long term. When your focus is on learning you ask yourself what will make student want to learn? That is different than what will make students want to get a good test score.

David, in the podcast:

The system coming out of the last century basically made learning flexible but time rigid. Its called the grading system. Set an arbitrary due date, [say] Friday. Then by Friday, do any amount of work you want, any poor quality level you want as long as you get it to me by Friday. So the schedule drives everything and teachers and parents get frustrated when my child is getting a C or D or B.

A lot of that is psychological they [the student] realizes there is no way I am going to get an A or do this level of work in the arbitrary time limit. So I’ll just do whatever I need to do and get whatever I get and then people just start responding to the extrinsic motivators.

Dad doesn’t get mad at me as long as I get at least a C, ok. So you have kids coming in and saying what do I have to do to get a C. I have to get at least a D average to play basketball. Ok, what do I need to do to get a D average.

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Related: Monta Akin on The 20 Year Deming Journey at the Leander Independent School DistrictHow Did We Do on the Test?Dr. Deming Video: System Improvement for Educators and ManagersDeming Podcast: Andrea Gabor on Management at Ford, GM and the USA Education System

For more information about David Langford’s current work, with Ingenium Schools, please visit

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