The American Society for Quality (ASQ) has long promoted quality in elementary education through a program entitled Koalaty Kid. It was an outgrowth of activities at Frederick C. Carder Elementary School in Corning, New York, where Fred the Koala appeared throughtout the school on bulletin boards, at assemblies, in the cafeteria, and in the classrooms.
In the 1980s, several teachers and the principal at Carder identified factors they deemed most important to student success and areas where they felt their students needed improvement. First, they believed that reading was the key to all other learning, and observed that students did not read much beyond what was required in the classroom. Second, they found that all too often, students were handling in homework with numerous errors. When asked to correct them, students could do so easily. They knew how to do it, but simply didn’t habitually do it right the first time. Third, they observed that the most successful students were those who felt confident of their abilities and comfortable with themselves.
Having identified these critical issues, they developed a plan to bring about change throughout the whole school. Reading at home was encouraged with a system of contracts. Students demonstrated that they understood what they read through book reports, and each book was recorded. Students who met their contracts were recognized at assemblies, and incentives helped to encourage the habit. Second, the teachers communicated the standard of work they expected in homework- best work the first time. When students handed in papers, they were asked to assess in their own minds, “Is this your best work?” Excellent papers were displayed on bulletin boards, and students were recognized for “Koalaty work.” Third, teachers established schoolwide expectations for behavior, and made a point of “catching” students being good. This combination of efforts became known as “Koalaty Kid,” and students eagly strove to become “Koalaty Kids” to read more, do their best work the first time, and treat others with courtesy and respect.
In 1988, two ASQ members from Corning, Incorporated visited the school and learned about Koalaty Kid. They immediately say the parallels to total quality: critical issues had been identified, a plan for improvement was developed and implemented, clear expectations were communicated, a measurement system was put in place, and a consistent system of recognition and reward reinforced student success. Excited by what they saw in Carder School, the businesspeople brought the Carder model to the attention of ASQ headquarters. The Society invested in a pilot program, providing incentives for reading and tracked increases in 26 pilot schools over two years. A Koalaty Kid steering committee, including educators, sponsors, and ASQ broader and more rigorous use of total quality in schools. More than 800 U.S. schools and many overseas have adopted Koalaty Kid.
Because Koalaty Kid is an approach, not a prescribed program, schools can utilize it to achieve their own objectives.