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Bill Kalmar

Quality Insider

Let’s Demand that 2 + 2 Always Equals 4

School standards should never be lowered.

Published: Tuesday, March 9, 2010 - 17:36

One of the elements of a successful community is a strong school system. Real estate brokers will always discuss the educational resources in a community when showing homes to prospective buyers. There should be no argument that schools are the lifeblood of any community.

During the last couple of months there has been a lot of discussion about schools in Lake Orion—my hometown. A group of concerned parents meets on a regular basis to exchange ideas and information about our educational process. Many of their ideas, concerns, and suggestions have been covered in several local newspapers.

Their focus is to assure that the administration capitalizes on the strengths of the system and also to offer some thoughts on opportunities for improvement. And as such, their actions are noble and admirable, and all of us should be grateful for their concern and involvement in the schools. I would hope that the administrators lend an ear to their suggestions.

One of the practices that should concern all of us, no matter the school district, is a plan common to a lot of school systems, which is to attract pupils from outside the district. Certainly, there is a financial reward for doing so, since the state of Michigan provides funding for the number of students in a district.

But there is also a danger.

Prior to my retirement as director of quality and customer service for the State of Michigan, I was heavily involved with a number of school districts across the nation. What I discovered is that there are a number of concerns shared by all the schools; and at the top of the list is how to meet and exceed the expectations, wants, and needs of the community. Students are certainly the customers of the administration, but so are parents and the community. Turning out students who don’t meet publicized standards is an injustice to the student, the parents, and the community. Standards should be rigorous and adhered to.

Another area of great concern shared by many schools across the nation is the ability to weed out incompetent teachers and administrators. We all know that every line of work has its share of low-performing employees. Somewhere there is a doctor who graduated at the bottom of his or her class. There are lawyers, company CEOs, and middle managers who are performing at a substandard level. There are teachers and administrators in that same category. From what I have observed throughout the United States, there is an effort to correct some of these deficiencies by enforcing standards and in many cases by forming charter schools, much to the dismay of many teacher unions. After all, parents want their offspring to be prepared for the demands of the real world, and schools can't afford to ignore this. Parents, students, and the community have a right expect that students are properly educated, even if it makes teachers and administrators uncomfortable. Any arguments to the contrary are meaningless as far as I am concerned.

I mention this, because there is no room for incompetence in any line of work, and standards should be adhered to. What concerns many school districts is that, at times, the influx of students from other districts threatens to lower standards, perhaps because of class size issues or because students from other districts may not be at the same academic level. Many of these students transfer to another district not so much for academic reasons but for safety reasons, which in some respects can be understood. But administrators should not, under any circumstances, lower the academic standards to accommodate students from other districts. Standards should never be lowered. There are some districts already concerned about the erosion of high standards and the issue is being addressed by parents and administrators.

On the other hand, there are a number of successful school districts in our country that have applied for and won our nation’s highest award for quality and service—The Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award—which is given out every year by the President of the United States. Reviewing the applications for these winners discloses that all are in lock-step with the community in-so-far as reaching out for suggestions. Standards are established and adhered to by these winners.

If someone suggested that a basketball net should be lowered to accommodate a team lacking tall players, the community would vehemently protest. Let’s hope that as school districts look to other districts to attract students, those same parents will remain vigilant and make sure our academic standards are not lowered. In fact, in basketball vernacular, we should put a “full court press” on maintaining high standards. We insist that 2 + 2 continues to equal 4 wherever it is discussed.

So having a group of parents in the community, monitoring what transpires in the school system is fundamental to maintaining a healthy academic environment. Administrators and teachers should welcome their involvement. It is through active involvement in the education of our communities' children that all of us—schools, students, and community—become winners. Let’s focus on this together, right now, and not risk having to do it at the last minute.

As in basketball, last-second shots are not always successful.


About The Author

Bill Kalmar’s picture

Bill Kalmar

William J. Kalmar has extensive business experience, including service with a Fortune 500 bank and the Michigan Quality Council, of which he served as director from 1993 through 2003. He served on the Board of Overseers of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program and has been a Baldrige examiner. He was also named quality professional of the year by the ASQ Detroit chapter. Now semiretired, Kalmar does freelance writing for several publications. He is a member of the USA Today Vacation Panel, a mystery shopper for several companies, and a frequent presenter and lecturer.


Something more important than graduation rank

I get what you were going for by citing the doctor that graduated last in his class. However, I think it is a poor analogy. He did meet the qualifications, admittedly minimally but he earned his diploma. This reflects that he is not the best student, but does not necessarily mean that he is not a good medical practitioner. He could well turn out to be a better doctor than many who graduated above him. They are the ones I wouldn't want to be treated by. Turning our focus back on teaching, we all know the PhD that cannot teach. He has all the knowlege, but cannot effectively convey it to his students. He is one I wouldn't want teaching my grandchildren.

None dare call it fraud ...

When a student is issued a diploma from a school, it should signify some baseline level of understanding and achievement. However, if a school system confers a diploma on a student who either has not applied himself, or who has been denied this baseline of understanding, isn't issuing the diploma equivalent to the school perpetrating fraud against the student, his parents and any future employer of the student? Who, then, is responsible for allowing this fraud, and what should be done to prevent it? The "five whys" might be an effective tool to employ here. You're probably way ahead of me on the answers.

2+2=4 but...

In some applications 2+2=10 or 2+2=11...