Posted by: Knightbird | December 31, 2010

Dr. Deming at Mt. Edgecumbe

I had the privilege of speaking to students at the Mt. Edgecumbe High School in Sitka, Alaska, in the 1980’s, while I was administering an Economic Development Grant at the University of Alaska Southeast. At the time, some of the principles of Dr. Deming were being used to guide their academic program using a Total Quality Management model, with modifications. One of my favorite principles was modified to read” “Work to abolish grading and the harmful effects of rating people.” One of the tools they started using to abolish grading was “portfolios.” Portfolios were apparently based on rather complex learning matrices developed by students and teachers for each competency area. The rating system they used is based on Benjamin Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. Talk about establishing clear objectives and fostering cooperation in learning.

Our own Chugach School District (CSD) has taken similar ideas and parlayed them into an enviable educational system utilizing a Standards Based Academic Progression. Students are not served by age and grade, but instead by clearly laid out standards that they must master before they advance to the next standard. Assessments are also based on assessment, not grades. CSD’s Taxonomy has 4 levels—emerging, developing, proficient and advanced. Learning is seen as a journey, and not a destination. Education is a process through which students flow. I like the concept.

It’s a surprise to me that more schools aren’t pursuing innovation in ways that make sense. Instead, they pursue benchmarks such as the extremely low standards like those set by the Alaska High School Graduation Qualifying Examination. Both my sons passed the exam at the first opportunity they had to take it in their sophomore year. It’s tough explaining to young people that they still have a lot to learn if their own State Department of Education is telling them that someone with a freshman year of education has learned all they need to know to graduate from high school.

Dr. Ben Chavez is another innovator who has produced results. Read about his work at the Oakland American Indian Charter School in his book “Crazy Like a Fox: One Principal’s Triumph in the Inner City.” One person can make a difference.


  1. David Langford lead the efforts at Mt. Edgecumbe. Those interested in more on his ideas can see his web site It is full of great stuff for improving education.

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