Improving Education with Baldrige: Tips to Get Started

Posted by Christine Schaefer

Why is the Baldrige Excellence Framework beneficial for organizations in the education sector?

“Education organizations are by nature complex systems,” responds Lisa Muller, Jenks Public Schools Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning. “Watching the buses run every afternoon as they deliver thousands of students from our school sites to their homes is a great reminder for me of the importance of systems thinking and process management to our success as an organization.”

Since Muller’s suburban Oklahoma school district received a Baldrige Award in 2005, its enrollment has grown from 9,300 to 11,450 students. During the past decade, Jenks Public Schools also has seen its students become more diverse, both ethnically and socioeconomically. And examples abound of how the district continues to benefit from its knowledge and use of the Baldrige framework.

Said Muller, “The continuous-improvement efforts at Jenks Public Schools have allowed us to identify ways to improve the effectiveness of our instructional programs and delivery methods, reduce operational costs so that more resources can be shifted to classrooms (even during the recent years of cuts in education funding), and recruit and retain effective employees.”

Muller shared that cost savings achieved during the construction process for capital improvement projects completed last year helped the district add (to the original building proposals) a field house for basketball, volleyball, and wrestling activities. Both the new and older district facilities today are used frequently beyond school hours for wide-ranging community education offerings, including tuition-based classes ranging from driver’s education to ballroom dancing. “Profits from these programs are reinvested in our schools and used to support additional educational opportunities for students,” said Muller.

To help other organizations benefit similarly from a Baldrige approach to organizational improvement, Muller shared the following guidance on getting started.

1. Start small and build on early successes over time: “My top tip for organizations at this stage and people leading continuous-improvement efforts is to recognize the slow nature of this type of organizational change,” said Muller. “There’s a reason Baldrige Award recipients talk about their journey rather than their race.”

2. Take advantage of all the self-assessment tools and informational resources on the Baldrige Program’s website: Muller noted that many (free and easy-to-use) resources for beginners are available on the “New to Baldrige” page of the Baldrige Program’s website at For example, this web page has links to the “Are We Making Progress?” surveys and the easyInsight survey tool, which can help organizations identify potential starting points for their improvement work.

3. Focus conversations around continuous improvement rather than “doing Baldrige.” The Baldrige Criteria provide an excellent framework for driving organizational improvement, said Muller, but they are a means to an end, not the end goal itself.

Muller also recommended the Organizational Profile as a “very useful starting point” for organizations new to a Baldrige approach to performance improvement. “The questions in this part of the Baldrige Criteria help organizations do two things: (1) create context by telling the story of who they are and what they do, and (2) identify potential areas of focus for continuous improvement efforts,” she said. Muller explained that her district has used its Organizational Profile as the context for thinking about its performance in all areas.

“Excellence in the 5 ‘A’s of Academics, Activities, Attitude, the Arts, and Athletics is one of the district’s core competencies,” she added. “It represents our focus on educating the whole child, even in challenging economic times when many districts elected to cut fine arts and other elective programming.”

“To meet the changing nature of the first “A”—academics—we’re piloting a device-to-student ratio of 1:1 in our instructional technology plan,” she added. “This year, all students in grades 9 through 12 have a Chromebook and access to a learning management system through which teachers deliver blended instruction that students can access at school and at home.”

Photo collage of Jenks district's focus on "5 A's"
This photo collage depicts the district’s focus on its “5 A’s.” Image used with permission of Jenks Public Schools.

Muller will present “Beginning the Baldrige Journey: First Steps Toward Performance Excellence” at the Baldrige Program’s 27th Annual Quest for Excellence® Conference. To learn from this and other sessions featuring role-model Baldrige Award recipients sharing best practices, register for the Quest for Excellence, April 12–15, in Baltimore, MD.


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3 Responses to Improving Education with Baldrige: Tips to Get Started

  1. Susan Allred says:

    Assistant Superintendent Lisa Muller is especially right about continuous improvement. Having used the criteria in my own work since 2000 in many different settings, educators quickly understand that we have been doing 9-months-at-a-time stop and start processes in education. The logic of continuous improvement sells to educators quickly. When educators see process management change theory in action based on data and information, they see it just makes good sense. I would work no other way now and would advise no other way. Success builds on success in education.

  2. Nancy Timmons says:

    Thanks so much for sharing Lisa Muller’s “Tips. . .” I have been using my Baldrige experiences as a former Examiner and your updates, which I read religiously, in my work as a consultant to a large, urban school district in Texas. The district engaged in a very comprehensive audit of all systems and functions a couple of years ago. The documented results by this “band of experts” laid bare a very critical reality.

    I was approached to take on the task of managing a follow-up. My experiences as a former auditor with the auditing firm and former Examiner presented an interesting challenge for me, once I realized that the two formed the perfect marriage. The audit documented what the district needed to improve itself, and the criteria helped us with the how.

    After 2 years, we are showing remarkable progress and our reach is being expanded for the coming year.

    Words cannot express my appreciation to you and your team. (And please excuse me for not having the time to commit to continuing my Examiner service.)

    Nancy Timmons, Ed.D.
    Examiner 2011, 2012

    Thank you


  3. Christine Schaefer says:

    Thank you both for sharing your perspectives on using the Baldrige framework and principles in education.

    Congrats on the progress and improvements you’re supporting!

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