In her book, After the Education Wars: How Smart Schools Upend the Business of Reform, Andrea Gabor identified school districts and educators who exemplified a truly forward-thinking, innovative path out of our current political stalemate. One of those districts was Leander, Texas, which was applying the principles of management guru W. Edwards Deming, thanks to a waiver from repressive state mandates.

Now Leander is looking for a new superintendent, and Gabor describes the innovative ideas that made the district remarkable. 

Deming, a statistician who died in 1993, based his quality management philosophy on two seemingly disparate ideas: The use of statistical tools to measure and improve systems and the conviction that those closest to any given process are best equipped to identify problems and opportunities for improvement. What made Deming’s ideas controversial was his insistence that meaningful employee input only works if it is based on trust. Deming opposed punitive employee evaluations and individual bonus systems on the grounds that they foster fear and undermine teamwork.

Deming’s ideas about process measurement were embraced throughout industry, but his exhortations on the importance of building a culture of trust were not.

That’s what makes Leander special. The school district adopted Deming’s ideas about using statistical analysis and teamwork to improve classroom pedagogy and school design, and even to jumpstart a student-led anti-bullying campaign. But to sustain its strategy and build a trust-based culture of the kind Deming advocated, Leander won a waiver from the state’s teacher-evaluation system.

As Gabor shows, wonderful things happen when teachers, students, and school administrators are trusted to make decisions.

She wonders whether this bright spot in American education, which should be a beacon for other districts, will survive a change in leadership. Stay tuned.