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Benchmarking 101


America's K-12 education system is sitting on a gold mine of hidden, untapped best practices, writes C. Jackson Grayson Jr. in this Education Week Commentary. It doesn't occur to most educators to get help from best practices inside their own organizations. Nor do they have a culture of looking outward for best practices in other sectors, Grayson says. Yet, the single best way to accelerate the rate of improvement in K-12 education is through widespread benchmarking of these best practices.

To Grayson, benchmarking means focusing on the processes between inputs and outcomes. Yet few educators embrace the concept.

What do you think? Should schools be using benchmarking practices?


Duh-uh! The best practices are being developed daily, hourly, every minute, in classrooms across the nation as teachers adapt to the various needs and demands of their students and the schools. I do keep saying it, over and over again, but it is true, education is doing fine. In fact, schools in America are doing an outstanding job overall. There is too much interference from outside of education. The business of government is funding education, not reforming it. Government cannot even reform itself. The teachers in the classrooms and the administrators in the offices of our public schools are the real untapped resources of education.

To Duh!

Education is not fine. With a fifty percent dropout rate- for at risk populations- educators get a D for poor effort. I am a former teacher and best practices were not always implmented, or shared or reinforced.In the name of our old friend-- denial-- we keep refusing to change.


There are so many variables involved with the sucess or failure of a student. Blame goes to parents, educators, the church etc. What we forget is to keep the students as our main focus. Everyone working together to help the student is what we should be striving for. If we did this we would be meeting the needs of students and thus shouldn't need benchmarks, government involvement, etc. We have a lot of good educators that know what to do to meet student needs, but are so involved with testing or teaching to the test, plus other tasks given by administrators (tasks required by the government agencies)that they don't have the time to give fully to generating good plans to meet student needs.

Benchmarking can help, but Mr. Grayson's article omits a key problem: It is not just "processes" that need change, but the underlying, hundred-year-old obsolete school system, whose culture and relationships cannot produce the levels of education now needed. Failure to recognize this is why Vic's "everyone working together to help the student" is so far from the reality of many of our over-bureaucratized schools, and why, despite the "hours and days" of teachers implementing "best practices" that Bob is so proud of still leave us with Alix's truth that "Education is not fine" for far too many students, and for America's future.

Actually, the TQM approach that Mr. Grayson is familiar with, can help a school make fundamental system change, so long as that is the intention, and it is adapted to take account of the key roles of students, families, and communities, that have no direct counterpart in business.
But if such system change is not the intention, then TQM and benchmarking are likely just to produce more superficial changes that continue to fail to produce the new levels of learning now needed.

I'm a great fan of TQM, but I'm at a loss from this article to actually grasp what Mr. Grayson wants educators to do. Certainly the deficiencies in classroom practices are nothing like deficiencies on an assembly line--not matter how much we compare our schools to this factory metaphor. So, I guess I would be grateful if Mr. Grayson could give us one or more examples of how he sees Benchmarking working. Let me confess, at this point it feels like another system with more vocabulary, but I'd love to be proven wrong.

The people who know the most about education are educators. And by educators I mean the teachers in the classroom. Principals and other administrators are often in the precarious position of responding (some would say pandering) to interests that, sometimes despite the best intentions, do not have the knowledge from both personal practice and research needed to advance our schools. If these various sectors would get out of the way of our teachers, would stop forcing them to use methods that are demonstrably not in the interests of our most important stakeholders, our students, huge strides could and would be made. Teachers are the education experts.

C. Jackson Grayson's suggestions to improve NCLB are right on the money:

1. Drop the “highly qualified teacher” and “research-based practice” requirements from the law.
2. Keep accountability mandates at current high levels, but involve administrators and teachers more directly in reaching them, and empower them to search for and implement best practices that work for them.

Then he goes on to say, "...our education system is going to fail under its present behaviors and assumptions about how to improve—namely, by setting high goals and then micromanaging key processes. It was a mistake in business, and is a mistake in education."

So, use NCLB to keep score. Maintain sanctions for districts that leave too many kids behind. Give parents options to pull their kids from failing schools. But stop trying to control the inputs, and let teachers become the professionals they are supposed to be.

Benchmarking: what evidence is there that this has worked anywhere at all? Famous benchmarkers and best practicers include the U.S. auto industry. Nearly dead. The one place all this works is in places like APQC, which provides income for "trainers." Honestly, folks, it's like those late night TV ads--if they really knew how to do it, wouldn't they be doing it instead of selling courses?

Is benchmarking another term for action research? Identifying a promising practice, and conducting some local (classroom/school) research design, data collection, analysis and then deciding if the practice is actually effective or just appears to be. A good idea and can provide guiding insights for more in-depth research -- THEN it can be identified as a best practice. For local use, approaching a new idea with some degree of objectivity is an important concept and will uncover great ideas. And there are tools to aid in the data collection process (commercial coming...), and the eCOVE Classroom Observation Toolkit is one. Identifying techniques to improve teaching, classroom management, etc that actually work is a great idea even if they only work with a narrow population, but having a way to gather the data efficiently is a critical part of the process and supports making effective decisions about 'best practices'.

Jon Madian, I am trying to get in touch with you and I lost your email address. If you see this, will you email me? Lise Ragan

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • Lise -- Educational Publisher: Jon Madian, I am trying to get in touch with read more
  • John Tenny, eCOVE Software: Is benchmarking another term for action research? Identifying a promising read more
  • David McCullough: Benchmarking: what evidence is there that this has worked anywhere read more
  • Barry Stern, Ph.D.: C. Jackson Grayson's suggestions to improve NCLB are right on read more
  • TomK: The people who know the most about education are educators. read more




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