Month: December 2012

Improving Education through Addressing Systemic Constraints

When I was in high school, I read The Goal, which is a business book that introduces the Theory of Constraints (TOC). At the time I still didn’t fully “get it”, or see how important the idea is that any process that is working towards an outcome will have constraints that slow down the system, reduce the quality of the outcome, and in some cases stop the outcome from being reached at all.   And by understanding these constraints, and addressing them strategically, then the outcomes will improve most.  The A to Z Mapping of Formal Education Systems that I’ve been developing can help show where constraints are unduly affecting the system.   In this post, I’ll just look at the A to G of the model, which is the core of how it models education.

Aims & Beliefs

Aims and Beliefs are NOT often constraints in and of themselves (other than possibly self-imposed constraints).  Instead, Aims & Beliefs make up the prerequisite knowledge that allows one to determine what constraints exist within a system.  BUT, the results of having different Aims & Beliefs of different people within a system almost always will lead to constraint issues.    Looking at a business example from The Goal, in that book, it says making money is the goal of a business. I personally disagree that this should be the only goal of  a business, or maybe even the primary goal (although I don’t, as of yet, have a better substitute, so I won’t propose one.)   But, lets say that for some reason a business decided to have as its goal to lose money (think something like Brewster’s Millions or The Producers), then the constraints on reaching that goal would likely be totally different from one of making money.

In education, this is a serious issue.  Many people have different beliefs about the purpose of education.  Thus they are inherently going to see different constraints within the system that need to be solved to fix education.  But, even if there is a common goal, this doesn’t mean that the system will still be properly changed to address the constraint issue.  Remember the joke “A camel is a horse designed by committee”  and the cartoon of the bureaucratic stages of creating a swing-set.  Nor does it mean that the people who can change parts of the system will even recognize the constraint issue.  The Goal sold well because it offered new ideas to business people.


To move beyond Aims & Beliefs, for arguments sake, lets assume that one of the first aims of education should be to help people get a job such that they can survive.  (This fits well with Common Core State Standards, and also fits into Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a prerequisite layer to achieve to help reach higher self-actualization.)  From this goal, then it can be seen that U.S. Public Education is likely constraining itself from reaching this goal by the content it delivers or doesn’t deliver.   Part of the challenge with this is that there are many individual career paths that need different types of content of skills and knowledge.   And differentiation of education doesn’t happen greatly generally until after High School, with High Schools having some differentiation.  This is then automatically a constraint on those who wish to pursue a specific field.


The delivery of instruction is a place where there are a huge number of constraints that can be reduced to lead to better outcomes.  As I’m running out of time this morning to write, I’m going to just bullet some of them:

  • Neurological Readiness
  • Neurological & Psychological Receptiveness
  • Cognitive Prerequisites
  • Focus on what is needed for a particular student (not what isn’t)

Evaluation, Feedback & Growth

Evaluation and Feedback both are big places of constraints on reaching goals.  Poor evaluation methods (like standardized tests can often be) lead to poor outcomes, and not using the results of the evaluation for both student and teacher (systemic) growth, also leads to not lowering constraints.


In future posts, I hope to explain more.  But I wanted to get these ideas out while I had a moment to do so.