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Opinion & Essays - Aug, 1998 Issue #53

The real school crisis:
Quality Control
By Lon Woodbury 

In essence, Quality Control means keeping promises. Whether in a private business or a public agency, those with authority and responsibility must have some way to determine if the quality of their product or service meets basic standards and objectives, and provides what clients/recipients need. They must then use this feedback information to help maintain consistent high standards. Though other terms are usually used, the national debate over education really boils down to Quality Control. That is, “Do schools provide what they say they will, and what parents and the public want, in a safe, consistent, effective and reliable way?” 

Four sources of Quality Control 

I count four potential sources of Quality Control relating to education: Legislation, Parents, Educators, and Students. Because all four share responsibility for the education of students, each must have some authority in decision making or we lose the balance that makes for a strong education program. Each group has its unique strengths and weaknesses, so an effective program must be structured to take advantage of the strengths of each and compensate for the weaknesses of each. There must be balance among these four to achieve a quality school. 

Student Responsibility 

When you know how to listen to students by understanding their reactions, students will tell you exactly how good a program is. Virtually all children are born with an innate curiosity and a desire to learn. A school or program that is properly structured will build on that positive tendency, and the children will be engaged (to use an education buzzword), which is their major responsibility in building a quality education. But when students sense that no one is listening to them, they will feel responsibility without authority, resulting in an increase in the number of bored or acting out students, a sign students feel powerless and unable to make much of a contribution, to the detriment of the school. 

Educator Responsibility 

Educators are the ones with the training and experience to foster learning. Good educators are vital to a good program. However, when educators have the responsibility to only carry out mandates from elsewhere and little authority to determine those mandates, they are unable to give their best efforts, to the detriment of the school. 

Parent Responsibility 

Parents know their children better than anyone else. They know the intimate details better than teachers, counselors, or any other professional. While professionals might have a better knowledge of narrow specifics about a child, it is the parent that has lived with a child all of his/her life, and intuitively has a better overall sense of what their child needs. Parents are usually seen as having the primary responsibility for all facets for raising their children. However, when parents sense they have little authority for the education of their children, they withdraw their energy and contribution to the school, to the detriment of the school. 

Legislative Responsibility 

The strengths of Legislation for Quality Control in education is as a collective statement by society forcing minimum standards, and the power to close down unsafe and/or ineffective schools or programs in a direct manner, by action of the Police if need be. It would be much more difficult to establish minimum standards by any other method. 

The Impact of Expanded Aggressive Education Legislation 

Since much of the contemporary education debate is in terms of national and state legislative initiatives to expand public authority and responsibility, it is worth while to take a closer look at what might happen if some of these expanded legislative proposals are adopted. In short, the impact of authority- increasing legislation to improve the quality of education would bring about a reduction in the contributions to quality education by parents, students and educators, to the overall detriment of the education system. 


Unless the legislative initiatives were very wisely written, some parents would stop taking responsibility in the area the initiative was written, and would assume the government was handling it so the parents would not have to worry. Others, wanting to stay involved, would find they are fighting bureaucracy and red tape to get what they think should be done for their child. While a minority of children with irresponsible parents might come out ahead from some legislative initiatives, the majority of children who have responsible and caring parents would lose some of their parents’ involvement in his/her life. More importantly, the education system would lose much of the benefit from active, involved parents demanding safe and effective schools. 


Aggressive directives from a legislative body about how to educate would turn schools into mere administrative extensions of the government. Conforming to regulatory mandates would increase in importance, along with allowing for political considerations, to the detriment of meeting the individual needs of the students. As a result, educators would have less ability to make their best contribution to quality education. 


Legislative dictates are based on broad assumptions of the categories of childrens’ needs. Individual children are then plugged into a category by an administrator who might or might not know much about the child. Any child whose needs were not predicted by the legislative body will automatically be poorly served. The rest would be placed where they seem to qualify, that might or might not fit some of their needs. Student feedback in the form of acting out, or being bored, or objecting, will then be treated as discipline problems to be controlled rather than listened to. Thus, the students’ contribution to quality education will be minimized or eliminated. 

One way to consider the problems schools are having around the country is to describe it as a Quality Control system that is out of balance. Legislative bodies and organized educational special interest groups currently dominate the education system, at the expense of parent, student and educator authority. This is just the reverse of the legacy from the 19th century when parents built and controlled local public schools, worked with the best teachers they could find, and students attended because they wanted some specific knowledge, or their parents strongly encouraged them to attend. At that time, parents and students had the reponsibility and the authority, which they shared with educators. Still, by the end of the 19th century, the country had accomplished virtually universal male literacy (Female literacy was rapidly increasing also, but female literacy in that rural society was not seen as high a priority). This is more than can be said for late 20th century society in which calls for adult literacy programs are expanding, and the President is calling for massive additional emergency government expenditures to bring students up to unmet basic literacy standards.

This is not to say we should go back to leaving education up to only students and parents. Professionalizing the teaching profession is a definite improvement over what we had in the 19th century, and only the government has the power to mandate minimum standards and quickly close down unsafe, unethical and fraudulent schools. The weakness is that other legislative expansions over the 20th century expanding legislative authority for the most part replacing parent, teacher and student authority and responsibility in education decision making, instead of supplementing them. This created a serious Quality Control imbalance. Part of the “education solution” will be a balance to bring back meaningful parent, teacher and student responsibility and authority.

Emotional Growth Schools and Programs 

Emotional Growth Schools and programs have found a good balance between these four necessary Quality Control factors for quality education. It has done this by developing spontaneously from the ground up. In the last twenty to thirty years, many individual educational visionaries saw that real needs of many children with behavioral/emotional problems were not being met by the existing system, and decided to go into the school business. Working and thinking regarding specific students, using networking and other ways to learn how to meet student and parent needs, they have found a healthy balance of the four factors in Quality Control.

 1.) Emotional Growth schools and programs accept and support basic legislative mandated safety requirements, and utilize (and often exceed) state curriculum standards. At this limited level of authority, the state’s directives are helpful. 

2.) They operate in a parent choice environment where working with parents and keeping them satisfied is vital to survival. The parents are so involved, exercising their authority and responsibility, that the schools could be described in a sense as acting as the agents of the parents. 

3.) They hire staff largely on the basis of competence and compatibility with the school’s philosophy, and then give them wide authority and responsibility within that philosophy to meet the individual needs of each student. This brings out the best in the staff through facilitating the children's growth, to the benefit of the students’ education.

4.) When any student shows by his/her behavior that his/her needs are not met, these schools are aggressive about finding out what that child needs. The school then does its best to provide what the student needs, even when it sometimes means referring the child to a different school where his/her specific needs might be better met. 

Educators and the public can learn a lot about how to develop a quality school by observing how Emotional Growth schools and programs respond to all four elements of Quality Control. The lessons were learned by working with those difficult-to-work-with children with behavioral/emotional problems. It can easily apply to schools for students without those problems. 

Copyright © 1998, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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