Six Sigma in Schools

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    Armando Di Finizio

    Has anyone tried to introduce Six Sigma into a school?   We’re a new school in Bristol who are developing a quality process system.   I’m interested in the Six Sigma model of quality assurance, but have heard that it would be very hard to apply to a school structure.   Is this true?    Does anyone know of a school who has trialed this or know of anyone who could help me develop this in our school?



    TQM is fair enough in schools ,even ISO is fair enough.Why you want to apply Six-Sigma here?.I could not trace your logic behind that .It is mainly all about DPMO,CTQ,DMAIC…etc.It is really too advanced for schools(my opinion).I believe it is similar to mixing oranges with apples……..Using this concept anywhere  and for any purpose would allow a lot of confusion,just my opinion.   Kind Regards.  MMAN   


    Tim Folkerts

    For those who haven’t seen this before, it is worth considering.
     “If I ran my business the way you people operate your schools, I wouldn’t be in business very long!”
    I stood before an auditorium filled with outraged teachers who were becoming angrier by the minute. My speech had entirely consumed their precious 90 minutes of inservice. Their initial icy glares had turned to restless agitation. You could cut the hostility with a knife.
    I represented a group of business people dedicated to improving public schools. I was an executive at an ice cream company that became famous in the middle1980s when People Magazine chose our blueberry as the “Best Ice Cream in America.”
    I was convinced of two things. First, public schools needed to change; they were archaic selecting and sorting mechanisms designed for the industrial age and out of step with the needs of our emerging “knowledge society”. Second, educators were a major part of the problem: they resisted change, hunkered down in their feathered nests, protected by tenure and shielded by a bureaucratic monopoly. They needed to look to business. We knew how to produce quality. Zero defects! TQM! Continuous improvement!
    In retrospect, the speech was perfectly balanced – equal parts ignorance and arrogance. As soon as I finished, a woman’s hand shot up. She appeared polite, pleasant. She was, in fact, a razor-edged, veteran, high school English teacher who had been waiting to unload.
    She began quietly. “We are told, sir, that you manage a company that makes good ice cream.”
    I smugly replied, “Best ice cream in America, Ma’am.”
    “How nice,” she said. “Is it rich and smooth?”
    “Sixteen percent butterfat,” I crowed.
    “Premium ingredients?” she inquired.
    “Super-premium! Nothing but Triple A.” I was on a roll. I never saw the next line coming.
    “Mr. Vollmer,” she said, leaning forward with a wicked eyebrow raised to the sky, “when you are standing on your receiving dock and you see an inferior shipment of blueberries arrive, what do you do?”
    In the silence of that room, I could hear the trap snap. I knew I was dead meat, but I wasn’t going to lie.
    “I send them back.”
    “That’s right!” she barked, “and we can never send back our blueberries. We take them big, small, rich, poor, gifted, exceptional, abused, frightened, confident, homeless, rude, and brilliant. We take them with ADHD, junior rheumatoid arthritis, and English as their second language. We take them all! Every one! And that, Mr. Vollmer, is why it’s not a business. It’s school!”
    In an explosion, all 290 teachers, principals, bus drivers, aides, custodians and secretaries jumped to their feet and yelled, “Yeah! Blueberries! Blueberries!”
    And so began my long transformation.
    Since then, I have visited hundreds of schools. I have learned that a school is not a business. Schools are unable to control the quality of their raw material, they are dependent upon the vagaries of politics for a reliable revenue stream, and they are constantly mauled by a howling horde of disparate, competing customer groups that would send the best CEO screaming into the night.
    None of this negates the need for change. We must change what, when, and how we teach to give all children maximum opportunity to thrive in a post-industrial society. But educators cannot do this alone; these changes can occur only with the understanding, trust, permission and active support of the surrounding community. I know this because the most important thing I have learned is that schools reflect the attitudes, beliefs and health of the communities they serve, and, therefore, to improve public education means more than changing our schools, it means changing America.
    by Jamie Robert Vollmer



    I would have thought that you could apply Six Sigma tools to improving exam results, teaching methods, defects in their processes ie parent nights etc
    Interested in others views on this subject….



    Armando unfortunately your not getting very logical responses to your question, though in their defense your question wasn’t that clear. I have applied Six Sigma at a major US university and an Italian university. It works. Six Sigma is simply data based decision making, and if data based decision making cannot be applied to a school then we are in trouble. Your school probably has defects like any other business. I worked with a local high school recently on a six sigma project to improve the on-time delivery rate of report cards. Very important to the customer…the parent. Drop me an email at [email protected] and we can discuss.



    Interesting.  My mother was a 35 year school teach so I have some insight on this (I also taught in high school for several years).
    The students themselves are only one input among many.  The teachers themselves have a large role to play.  The evaluations used in many schools are subjective at best (often political) and do not take into account the type of class (shop vs. English or “active” vs. “passive” learning).  The way the teachers work with the children is also vital.  Do they build the kids up or tear them down (Zapp! vs. Sapp).  The quality of communications is another.  Did you get a handbook and were told to read it when you got to high school or did someone go through it with you?  All of these and other inputs can be looked at for their value and contribution.  You may not be able to reduce the variation in the students but you can reduce the variation in the other inputs and the processes used.
    This example also make an assumption about the output of the schools only being grades.  I know it doesn’t say that but that is one of the things that most people hammer teachers for (personal experience).  “How come you are not helping my son/daughter enough?”  There are other outputs including fiscal responsibility (what are their processes and controls to make sure they don’t waste money? – every year we vote on another school levy because they are in debt!).  What about the line at the cafe?  Why does it take so long to get the kids through?  Why do the run out of food before all the kids eat?  Aren’t there processes and controls here that affect the attitudes and well-being of the students and staff?  Do ther freshman know how to find their class?  What process is in place to make sure the floors are swept and cleaned so that their are no injuries?  How about snow removal?  How and when is it done to insure maximum safety?
    Bottom line – schools have processes just like businesses.  Quality tools improve processes, not businesses.  What are the CTQ’s that are important (some of them are: book learning, safety, social skills, competitive skills, etc.)



    Contact your local ASQ section or go to the ASQ website.  ASQ has a program called Koalaty Kid which is not necessarily Six Sigma specific, but has a strong PDSA focus.  Several school districts around the country have been very successful in implementing overall continuous improvement plans as well as individual classroom “projects” that are very much like Green Belt projects. 
    The ASQ website has a link to Koalaty Kid, which lists participating schools and districts.  As Koalaty Kid liaison for our local ASQ section, I’ve done quite a bit of benchmarking with school districts and have found them to be eager to share their successes!



    I think it was two years ago I saw a video about a school district in Alaska that received the Malcolm Baldridge Quality Award.  The district had taken apart what is commonly accepted as a “school” and refocused on customer wants and needs.  Lots of data driven inprovements in student attendance, graduation rates and scores.  Very interesting.  I don’t know how you get ahold of the video, I saw it at a state organization that teaches and supports the Baldridge criteria.



    We are using Six Sigma here in NE Italy as part of our MBA program. Students get Green Belt Training from a qualified professional Master Black Belt and then do team projects with businesses over the course of the school year in order to earn a Green Belt Certificate. The projects have to meet strict standards to earn the Green Belt and we are using a Black Belt Coach during the process. It works quite well and companies here get access to Six Sigma, so it is a win-win for everybody.



    Wish I could be more specific but Mesa or Gilbert, Arizona High School has a program.  I ran into a small group of students working a project at a coffee shop on the boundry of both schools during the fall semester.
    There training notebook resembled the Goal/QPC Black Belt Memory Jogger materials.  They saw me running a project on Minitab and stopped by to see how the software worked, then went back to thier homework.
    Maybe someone in ASQ Chapter 0704 can be more specific.



    Hi mr Sandate,I would appreciate it if you could inform more specific on your Six Sigma greenbelt MBA-program.

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