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The Official Baldrige Blog

Preparing Students for Future Jobs: Update from a 2010 Baldrige Award Winner

MCPS students in class

Photo used with permission.


When Montgomery County Public Schools earned a Baldrige Award four years ago, it became the largest and most culturally diverse school district in the nation to have yet achieved the prestigious honor. Recently, staff members of the district shared how they continue to use processes based on the Baldrige Education Criteria for Performance Excellence to prepare students for future employment—including “jobs that do not exist today” but may be important tomorrow in a world of innovation and economic changes.

Following are excerpts from a virtual interview with Rose Ann Schwartz, a staff development teacher, and Dr. LaVerne Kimball, an associate superintendent of the district.

What are a few reasons that a school district can find value in implementing the Baldrige framework today?

With limited resources, it is vital to work smarter, not harder. Resources must be aligned with goals.  Baldrige does this. For example, the framework helps us implement a strategic plan that integrates our key competency areas of academic excellence, creative problem solving, and social emotional learning.

And we use our school improvement plan to drive what we do and how we allocate our resources. With this framework in place, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) maintains a focus on quality, rigor, and accountability.

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) set the learning goals and define the knowledge and skills students should master to be college- and career-ready. By implementing the Baldrige Criteria, your school district is able to pinpoint organizational strengths and tools for implementing the curriculum, tracking outcomes, and identifying opportunities for improvement.

How do you use Baldrige processes to support your district’s adoption of the CCSS?

CCSS needs to be part of a comprehensive approach to support rigorous student learning, and the Baldrige Criteria serve as a comprehensive framework for performance excellence. The framework focuses on results and requires management by fact and helps an organization stay customer- and market-focused. CCSS supports the expectation that students take ownership of their own learning. So students should be able to defend and justify their responses through multiple solution paths; frame solutions in context; identify variables and interpret results; choose appropriate learning tools; identify structure for their task; identify most efficient solutions to a task; and make connections to prior knowledge.

We use a collaborative planning process to ensure that we are implementing the curriculum across our system systematically. Here are our process steps, with questions we address at each one:

1.       Plan: What is the indicator or standard asking our students to do? What are the difficult points for teachers?  Students? What are the connections to prior/future learning? How will the thinking and academic skills be addressed?

2.      Do: What is acceptable evidence of proficiency with the indicator?What is the sequence of learning? How will we identify ways instruction can be adjusted to meet the needs of all learners?

3.      Study:  How will we know students are learning it? Review data points around multiple pathways.

4.      Act: What do we do if they already know it? What do we do if they do not learn it?


Additional insights you would like to share?

Yes; the thinking and academic skills that we are helping students build in MCPS align with the CCSS emphasis on the development of critical skills; for instance, problem solving, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity are vital to students’ future success in college and workplaces.

The skills we are building to prepare students for future work also include intellectual risk taking, collaboration, synthesis, persistence, analysis, evaluation, fluency, flexibility, elaboration, and metacognition. 

About the author

Christine Schaefer

Christine Schaefer is a longtime staff member of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program (BPEP). Her work has focused on producing BPEP publications and communications. She also has been highly involved in the Baldrige Award process, Baldrige examiner training, and other offerings of the program.

She is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Virginia, where she was an Echols Scholar and a double major, receiving highest distinction for her thesis in the interdisciplinary Political & Social Thought Program. She also has a master's degree from Georgetown University, where her studies and thesis focused on social and public policy issues. 

When not working, she sits in traffic in one of the most congested regions of the country, receives consolation from her rescued beagles, writes poetry, practices hot yoga, and tries to cultivate a foundation for three kids to direct their own lifelong learning (and to PLEASE STOP YELLING at each other—after all, we'll never end wars if we can't even make peace at home!).

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This is a truly great and rich posting that captures the holistic effects of Baldrige “thinking” on the issues that major districts are currently struggling to respond to. And especially the CCSS “standards” that are beginning to generate pushback among many politicians, policymakers and some practitioners. In the interest of full disclosure, my strong reaction to this posting is influenced by my informal relationship with the MCPS that began formally as their Baldrige “advisor” for their original “Call to Action” strategic plan. And then, over the next 16 years, provided a unique window for viewing Baldrige criteria interacting with the daily work of schools and for my growing realization that I was not just benchmarking the “What’s” and “How’s” of Baldrige implementation… but was also capturing a more critical “Why.” -- It had generated a common framework for thinking – that offered a common answer to “Why” people do what they do individually and collectively to respond to the learning needs of children (individually and collectively.) As this way-of-thinking became a common “mental model” it served as a lens that offered a way to “see” the school “system” as a whole with a common focus, and within it, the interdependence of the classroom and the Boardroom. As a consequence, they began to govern, lead, and improve “systemically.” (Something reformers claim as their goal...but continually fail to achieve.) As the posting indicates, that perspective enabled them to see connections between the CCSS “standards” and their work as a "system." They back mapped from the new capacities these require in students to the new types of “capacity development” work this would require from them. (To understand what that required, I’d like to add this “Additional insight” to their concluding “Additional insight.” ) They noted rightly that “the critical thinking and academic skills that we are helping students build …(for instance, problem solving, collaboration, critical thinking, intellectual risk taking persistence, flexibility, and creativity) are vital to students’ future success in college and workplaces to prepare them for future success in their work.” What they didn’t say there was that those were the exact same skills they first had to develop themselves as a system-wide capacity. ...And that’s where the Baldrige’s effects were, and continue to be, most significant. Watching this happen was particularly rewarding for me because in the midst of it, in 2007, Education Week published “The Last Word: The Best Commentary and Controversy in American Education” over the previous 25 years… and included in it an earlier commentary of mine - Is There a Standard for Meeting Standards? ….that concluded with these words: ••••••• “If the current national-standards debate is an example, these local learnings about process standards and accountability are not effectively trickling up. Yet understanding the need for and feasibility of these ideas cannot wait for research to "prove'' their effectiveness. If schools are to have the support required to meet world-class standards, we must make visible this universal management process standard. Policymakers must become aware of the power of this type of process--one that systemically supports and enables its participants to learn how to improve and institutionalize improvements as part of the job. Federal and state policies must support local development of an accountable process infrastructure--framed by learning standards and fed by continuing assessment information--that aligns all roles and relationships to the core functions of teaching and learning. Without such a manageable, widely applicable process standard, the only thing bridging the gap between where schools are and where they must be will be the hides of local practitioners who once more will be blamed for not already knowing how to get there. Organizational transformation, the management expert W. Edwards Deming noted, is a "journey.'' To attempt that crossing without standard tools for navigating through dynamically changing conditions would not be tolerated in any modern endeavor ... except schools. “… •••••••• And now I was seeing how it could be done with the use of a “World Class” process standard – the Baldrige Criteria. (And while I won’t go into it here, the key was how they developed, and now sustain, that “accountable process infrastructure--framed by learning standards and fed by continuing assessment information--that aligns all roles and relationships to the core functions of teaching and learning.” There’s more about this “scaffolding” over their work on the website where I’ve been telling the MCPS story –

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