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Andrea Gabor

Fighting for Neutral Ground in the School Testing Wars

How a Texas district turned business guru W. Edwards Deming’s theories into an education-reform blueprint. And why it might not last.

Neither are school districts.

Neither are school districts.

Photographer: Craig F. Walker/The Denver Post

The war pitting school reformers confident of the virtues of standardized testing and test-based accountability systems against educators who have rallied against them has obscured a small but significant third-way movement. Instead of waging battles for or against increasingly rigid state and local mandates, some school districts have found ways to pursue their own paths to self-improvement.

Among the most interesting of these is the central Texas district of Leander, near Austin, which embraced the ideas of the business-management guru W. Edwards Deming in the 1980s, then built and sustained a school improvement strategy that is as rare as it has been successful.