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Education Innovation

Innovation In Education: So What Else Is New?
Reaching The Individual Student

Dr. Valerie Maxwell
SOI Systems, Manhattan Beach, California

Note: This paper was awarded for "Outstanding Presentation" at the International Conference on Organizational Innovation, Bangkok, Thailand, August, 2010


While many innovators have tried their hands at changing and improving the educational system, from Somerhill to No Child Left Behind, few have addressed the needs of the individual student. Fundamentally, how do we bring innovative change to a student's learning abilities?

We are talking about neither institutional nor curricular change, nor about teacher change. We are talking about proven methods, rarely used, that create neurological transformation in each and every individual student, in their established school setting. The age of brain training has arrived, but schools have yet to board the brain-train.

First, let's examine educational failure. There are three reasons why learning, at any age, may fail:

1. The student is not prepared to learn

2. The teacher does not deliver the information so the student properly assimilates it, or

3. The information being presented (curriculum) may be inadequate for, or insensitive to the learning needs of the student.

If you teach curriculum to the group in a lock-step mode, some learners will be missed...and, invariably, the group will go on. In education, this lacuna has a cumulatively negative effect, often culminating in students dropping out, and at the very least in feelings of pervasive personal failure. Whole portions of the student's educational future are then missed.

This can create academic avoidance, for example, with females who might have trouble with math, hence forgoing many career opportunities. Doors of opportunity begin to close for students with learning differences.

In an educational meritocracy, historically, you could succeed by having a narrow but well-grounded education; yet now, more and more, the business world demands a workforce population with more than a basic understanding of many fields of learning. More than ever, the world today fervently needs disciplined, motivated and hard-working critical thinkers who are willing to go the distance in their endeavors. The earth and its inhabitants need an abundance of best minds to solve unprecedented crises like the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

It appears that we are producing fewer and fewer of this kind of educated adult, while we are experiencing even more educational failures.

Almost All Failures In Education Are Correctable...If They Are Detected And Treated Early

"The earlier that a failure is identified, the easier it is to correct" (Robert Meeker, Ph.D. SOI Founder, 2009 Internal Document, SOI). Nevertheless, neuroscience once again confirms that the key to educational success is, indeed, in early education. According to Robert Meeker, it is well known that, "it is easier to build a child, than to mend an adult." Yet, recent data on the well-liked early education/intervention, popularized in the 1970's, indicates that too often Head Start programs have emerged as not much more than childcare. Why have they failed?

Almost all failures in learning result from the well-worn educational observation: The student did not come to school prepared to learn. This is a problem, but it is not a rationale for failure. When students are not prepared to learn, it means that the learning presentation has made assumptions about the students' skills, abilities, and concept-repertoires which the students do not meet.

If a consumer complains about a car that is a lemon and the car company blames the failure on "bad material," they are simply identifying a problem, but this is not a rationale for failure -- a responsible car company will change suppliers. Toyota's recent crisis is a case in point. Eventually, companies take responsibility and correct the problems.

When persistent learning failure sets in, problems are compounded. An endless cycle of self-defeating emotions and behaviors ensues. We believe that this kind of behavior typical in the current global culture reflects the profound sense of powerlessness that plagues so many people. Powerlessness often begins in one's first years of school experience. The kind of innovation we will outline can help solve the global educational problem.

Certified Learning: The Innovative Alternative

Certified Learning is not a zero-sum game. It democratically produces learners who both succeed and take responsibility for their learning; it is the opposite of a meritocratic educational system. Children of all races, learning profiles, and social economic status are successful in the curriculum and graduate Certified Learning kindergarten and first grade with historically high levels of self esteem, personal responsibility, disciplined behavior and interpersonal empathy.

They have developed their brains and very few are "left behind." We call this "Mastery." Certified Learning is the product of over 50 years of research provided by the Structure of Intellect (SOI) theory of identifying and training learning abilities. It is nothing less than the educational Holy Grail widely sought but elusive...until now.

SOI is a series of learning programs that range from readiness in kindergarten, to training and career counseling in industry, to rehabilitation in correction facilities. Clients include beginning learners, the learning disabled, autistic, ADHD, and the academically gifted. SOI can offer this broad range of testing, teaching, and training services because it is based on a proven theory of human intelligence.

Dr. J.P. Guilford developed the theory underlying SOI in military and academic research. During World War II, the US Air Force was using IQ, vision assessment and good health as the basis for choosing pilots. With these conventional criteria, 35% of the individuals selected "washed out" during the training. Guilford was asked to develop a more effective screening tool.

He did so and when his new screening was applied the "washout" rate dropped to 9% for bombardiers, and 5% for pilots and navigators. The full theory is explicated in his 1967 book, The Nature of Human Intelligence.

Mary Meeker, a doctorial student of Guilford's, along with her husband Robert, took Guilford's theory and developed it into an effective tool to assess learning capacities and to develop learning abilities where needed. It is this ability to develop potential learning abilities that makes SOI stand out from the many other intelligence tests. Mary Meeker's original work with SOI, The Structure of Intellect; Its Interpretation and Uses, expands our understanding of the breadth and depth of human intelligence.

The SOI Model for Learning focuses on the learner. It identifies those abilities, skills, and competencies that are expected of the student in most learning situations. It then provides the means of assessment to determine whether a given student meets these expectations. If the assessments reveal weaknesses, the program provides the means for overcoming these impediments by developing the abilities, skills, or competencies that are expected.

SOI Certified Learning --
Total Quality Management and Education

The application of Total Quality Management (TQM) to public school education has many advantages.

First, TQM, while an older but still compelling business theory by Deming, (Deming's 1950 Lecture to Japanese Management), does not tolerate continuing errors, so no instructional failure will go undetected or will be accepted -- all students are expected to master every step leading to mastery of the educational standards for their grade levels. Success is guaranteed for every student, so in a literal sense, rather than in a political sense, no child will be left behind.

Second, TQM is a complete system. Wherever and whenever failures occur, the system has procedures for correcting them. In this way the system is self-correcting and is constantly improving. The system improves week-to-week, so everyone -- students, teachers, and administrators -- benefit immediately from the improvements.

Third, the system offers new standards of evaluation at all levels. The evaluations are directly relevant to the instructional process. The emphasis in evaluation is not on testing; it is on measured success. The result of not passing a test is not a label of failure, but a prompt to find a way to master the material being tested.

Total Quality Management has been used in industry for more than 20 years. It is responsible for the quality and reliability of Japanese cars and electronics. It has been adopted, at one time, by every major manufacturer in the world. But students are not widgets, so how can we apply a system made for manufacturing, to education?

We can adopt the principles of TQM and adapt the procedures to the special circumstances of education. The circumstances of education are very different from industry, so we need to modify the usual procedures to create an educational model of Total Quality Management.

What are the principles of TQM?

First, the management system insures continuous improvement. Continuous improvement is not measured exclusively in terms of outcomes. Outcomes are obviously important, but when the focus is exclusively on outcomes, the enterprise often loses sight of its mission -- industries concentrate on the bottom line and lose sight of their customers in the process; schools concentrate on high-stakes test scores and lose sight of their students' needs. For TQM, continuous improvement is a systematic process of detecting your defects and having procedures in place to find their causes and correct them. In education, the "defects" are instructional failures specifically defined -- i.e. a student fails to master a step in the curriculum sequence.

So, continuous improvement requires a system for detecting failures when they occur and procedures for correcting those failures when they occur. Detection and correction go hand-in-hand. The failure that is easiest to correct is the one that is best defined and most immediate. Failures persist either because they are not detected or are not corrected. And failures that persist become more difficult to correct because they carry negative consequences for future learning. Learning is a cumulative process, and failures interrupt and/or negatively affect the on-going process. The system is best served when failures are corrected immediately.

For education this means specifying a curriculum in discrete steps of manageable size -- units that can be mastered in one to four weeks. Each unit teaches a specific objective that can be easily tested in a matter of a few minutes. The testing has two outcomes -- mastery (all responses correct) or no-mastery. And the outcomes have correlated consequences. Mastery sends the student to the next unit in the series. Failure to master sends the student back for more practice. And a second failure raises a red flag in the system to obtain special help for this student on this unit -- not special help in general, which is, by definition, unfocused and difficult to evaluate. On the other hand, special help for a specific unit is easy to evaluate; it either results in correcting the failure or it is a signal to seek system-level help.

Industry and education differ critically in their approaches to detected failure. In industry, if the cause of failure is traced back to defective material, the industry looks for a new, reliable supplier, because that is much more cost effective than dealing with defective material. Obviously, looking for new suppliers is not an option for public education. So, the system must be prepared to identify the skills, abilities, or concepts that the learning presentation assumed the student would have and which the student did not have. These can be perceptual skills, sensory-motor skills, intellectual abilities, or lack of enabling concepts. Whatever the deficit, the system must be prepared to identify them and find a remedy if at all practically possible.

SOI Certified Learning is committed to all of these principles and procedures. We have a management system to schedule all students and track their progress. We have specified a ninety-six step curriculum for Kindergarten with expectations as to the weeks (1 to 4) needed for mastery. We have mastery tests and/or criteria for all of the steps in the curriculum. We have built-in procedures in the management system for attention to failure, including the revision of curriculum if the failures are widespread for a given unit in the sequences. We issue reports bi-weekly so personnel at all levels -- classroom, administration, and system -- can respond to problems that are documented.

We have installed SOI Certified Learning in over 40 kindergarten-through-first grade classes in the various communities in Texas. We are in our third year of implementation in five kindergarten classes, and second year in five grade one classes in the White Settlement ISD in White Settlement, Texas (a suburb of Fort Worth). We have had constant feedback from the classroom teachers and administrators. We have made some in-course corrections and some recommendations for going forward into the next year. We have recently concluded an agreement to implement SOI Certified Learning in six kindergarten classes in the Sweetwater ISD in Sweetwater Texas.

A New Standard for Evaluating K-12 Education

Given the experience with No Child Left Behind (NCLB), it should now be obvious that the current standards for evaluating K-12 education are not working. The politicians may boast that test scores have risen, but everyone close to the situation - teachers, students, administrators, and parents - know that education is not significantly better than it was ten years ago. NCLB has taught us one thing: If the principal measure of success is the performance of the group, then there will be children left behind.

The primary focus is now clearly on the group, not on the individual. While most teachers are philosophically committed to the individual, there is the practical reality of needing to "move on" even if some in the group are being left behind. The result of the group focus is that some students will be left behind because they do not count as much as the group. In some highly publicized cases, students have been systematically excluded from the group statistics in order to improve the overall performance of the school. Imagine the message to these students: Worse than being left behind, they are being treated as non-entities.

The current standard of evaluation is lamentable, but it is nothing more than the traditional standard carried to an extreme. Since the middle of the last century we have tended to judge school performance by group statistics, but the inherent flaws in the system were only made obvious when the informal standard became codified at a national level.

We cannot go back to the way things were before NCLB. That policy arose out of a widely perceived need for accountability. That perceived need still persists, so any alternative to the group-think-statistics of NCLB must be a credible standard that will satisfy the demands of accountability. Can we find new standards that will put education back on track and, at the same time, satisfy the demands of accountability? Yes, and the key is to change the focus from the district-school-classroom group to each individual student.

Equal opportunity in society has been a bedrock concept of the national policy since the nation's inception. When, with the emerging recognition of individual differences, it became obvious that group-teach did not provide equal opportunity for all, schools began to pay more and more attention to the individual.

The emphasis on individual differences is a trend that has continued and grown. It is what sets U.S. education apart from most other systems in the world, which makes our educational system one of the most advanced in the world.

Historically, as the U.S. education system embraced the importance of individual differences, it did not bring about fundamental change. The system remained, basically, group-teach, but with an individual-difference overlay. One need only look at the codified procedures in the system to see that this is true: The hallmark of individual differences is Special Education. And, by policy, a student must be two years behind in achievement (group-teach achievement) in order to qualify for Special Education. (There is also some question as to whether Special Education is truly individualized or simply an alternate form of group-teach; but, even if this is so, it is still a laudable effort to deal with individual differences.) Some districts in the U.S. have as much as 40% of the student population in (no so) "Special Ed." So, even with a growing emphasis on individual differences, the fundamentals of the system have not changed.

So we should take a lesson from history in creating a new standard for evaluating K-12 education. We, as educators, are in the same position as the Japanese manufacturers were in the 1950s - we can adopt a new way of measuring success and thereby leapfrog the rest of the world in education. We already have an advantage, namely, we understand individual differences better than other nations; so, we have the know-how to build the procedures to meet the needs of all students in their individuality.

Of course we recognize that educating students is not manufacturing products - it is, in fact, much more complicated - but having a quality-driven enterprise transcends the differences between education and manufacturing. Let's look at the advantages in having schools as quality-driven enterprises with Quality Performance Reviews. The principal goal is this: Every unit within the school will have a system of integrated procedures that will enable, within practical limits, every student to progress to the maximum of his or her individual abilities. Let's look at the advantages of such a system, and then discuss how it might actually be achieved. Let's see how the consumers of education - students, parents, taxpayers, and employers - might view such a system.

Students: Students will soon realize, even at the kindergarten level, that their education is a matter of individual achievement, not a group competition. Since the system is committed to addressing individual differences that may manifest themselves in instructional failure, that failure is more readily accepted by the student when it is obvious that the system is going to do something to remedy the failure as quickly as possible.

Parents: To the extent that parents have a choice (by home buying or open enrollment) of schools, they would be able to look at the Quality Performance Reviews to determine the best school for their children. So, whether it is quality in general or in addressing special needs, the Quality Reports are superior to group-statistics - the Quality Reports will tell how their children will be treated; they have no idea where their children will end up in the group-statistics.

Taxpayers: Taxpayers may resent all taxes, but they revolt against taxes where they are not receiving quality services for their money. Most taxpayers have little idea as to whether they are getting quality for their dollar because the typical classroom-school-district-state reports are so obfuscated with exceptions and jargon that they are of little use.

Employers: Employers would be in the same position with respect to school graduates as they are with respect to anything else - namely does the Quality Review Report for the school indicate that this is a good source for hiring.

Now let's see how the producers of education - teachers, administrators, and educational governance - might view such a system.

Teachers: Teachers would have an entirely new basis of performance review, namely, are they following the procedures to produce the best results, and do they contribute to the general modification of procedures if they see how they could be improved. Notice, in particular, that on this basis of performance review, a teacher can do as well with a group that is preponderantly limited as with a group that is preponderantly gifted - the standard for both groups, and individuals within those groups, is the same.

Administrators: Classroom progress and teacher reviews are now documented at the individual student level in terms of success and remedies for failure. Performance reviews are more meaningful, more effective, and more fair when they are based on specifics rather than general outcomes.

Educational Governance: The role of governance is to set educational goals that are in line with broader policy goals for the region or nation as a whole; to provide oversight based on Quality Performance Reviews; and to insure that the established procedures are being followed. This can be at the district, state, or national level.

Summary and Conclusion

In summary, the proposed standard would be more in line with the philosophy, stated goals, and commitments of those directly involved in education. What are the barriers to such a standard? They are formidable. The resistance to change will be as large for education today as it was for the auto industry in the 1950s. And the auto industry in the 1950s had an impetus to change that the educational establishment does not have, namely, the auto industry was facing a financial future downturn; the mantra of the day was "change or perish." Education does not have that impetus; education is in no danger of perishing financially, so its only impetus to change is to be driven by an internally generated desire to do better. That may be too abstract to gain any traction.

What Changes Would Be Necessary To Implement The Procedures That Would Support Quality Performance Standards?

Small curriculum units. The curriculum would need to be recast into units of modest length - the majority requiring only a week, and none requiring more than one month. Small units are required so failures can be easily identified and quickly remedied. The units need to be standardized throughout the system at the district level.

Individual records of progress. Every student needs to be tracked through every unit in the curriculum. This is required so individual needs can be identified and adequately addressed.

Remedial procedures. Every failure in the system needs attention. Many of these failures will have enough frequency that general procedures for remediation can be prepared in advance and ready for application. For those failures that are outside the current set of remedial processes, the system needs to have consulting help available for any situation that the teacher cannot handle. This consulting will result in new procedures that can be added to the system's repertoire.

Reporting system. Reports of the system performance need to be generated on a monthly basis so they can be reviewed by the consultants and by the administration.

Quality Performance Reviews: These need to be generated each half-year at a minimum; they will provide the basis for oversight of the process at every level and will provide an objective source of review for the system performance that will affect decisions about curricular goals and curricular content.

We can make this innovation in education globally! None of this is technically beyond our capabilities at present but it may, as a whole, be beyond our will to change. The greatest inducement to change is the prospect of more NCLB or whatever system of group-teach accountability takes its place. The Principles, administrators and educators in Texas who have already successfully innovated their schools have made these remarkable changes! The results are impressive and accountable! If Texas can innovate to this degree, then the sky really is the limit!

References - Attention Deficit Disorders and Structure of Intellect Information and Services.

Deming, W. Edwards (2000). The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education (2nd ed.). MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-54116-5. OCLC 44162616.

Deming's 1950 Lecture to Japanese Management. Translation by Teruhide Haga. Accessed: 2006-06-16.

Guilford, J.P. (1967) "The Nature of Human Intelligence," McGraw-Hill, New York

Meeker, Mary Nacol. The Structure of Intellect; Its Interpretation and Uses. Columbus, Ohio: Merrill, 1969.

Meeker, Robert (2009). "Certified Learning: A Manual," internal document. SOI Systems P.O. Box D 45755 Good Pasture Road Vida, OR 97488 (541) 896-3936

Peterson, Paul E., and Martin R. West. No Child Left Behind?: the Politics and Practice of School Accountability. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 2003

Rafferty, Max Lewis. Somerhill: For and Against. New York: Hart, 1970

SOI Systems. Web. 30 June 2010.

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