Conference article

The Spellings Commission Report: An Attempt at Policy Determining Standards of Quality for American Universities

Fernando F. Padró
Monmouth University, USA

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Published in: 10th QMOD Conference. Quality Management and Organiqatinal Development. Our Dreams of Excellence; 18-20 June; 2007 in Helsingborg; Sweden

Linköping Electronic Conference Proceedings 26:65, p.

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Published: 2008-02-15


ISSN: 1650-3686 (print), 1650-3740 (online)


While Scholtes (1999) has proposed interdependence and interaction as a fifth element to Deming’s (1994) system of profound knowledge (SPK) because of the importance of these notions by themselves; this author has been arguing that public policy should be added as another element (a sixth one) in because policy either directly or indirectly shapes institutional notions of quality (Padró; 2006). The gist of the argument is that; in the field of education; public policy is used to advance achievement by the imposition of external standards directly or by encouraging and facilitating professional bodies as well as institutions themselves to identify; set; and meet standards that achieve the expectation criteria driving policy enactment. Public policy concerns are therefore more than merely those of regulatory compliance in the name of maintaining the public good (see Aman& Mayton; 1993). Delegation of legislative power to agencies may be more to defend activities from the sweep of differing political winds or to maintain flexibility in an environment of rapid change rather than a self-imposed limitation on defining public expectation of performance from social entities; including organizations in any legitimate enterprise or activity. “Political power and institutional capability is less and less derived from formal constitutional powers accorded the state but more from a capacity to wield and coordinate resources from public and private actors and interests.” (Peters & Pierre; 2001; p. 131)

In 2006; the U.S. Department of Education sponsored what is termed the Spellings Commission Report; named after the serving Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. In a speech given in September 2005; Secretary Spellings stated that the purpose of this Commission is to launch a national dialogue about higher education in the USA and to provide leadership in shaping this dialogue because “as taxpayers; we all have a stake in the higher education system.” The desired effect; however; is to crate an agenda whose basis it is to change the definition of quality in American higher education. According to the American Association of University Professors (2006):

“What emerges from the report is a vision of higher education as a marketplace that should increasingly rely on uniform standards to measure outcomes and technological means to provide training in skills necessary for global economic competition. The process and quality of the educational experience; so central to the formation of a love of learning; civic virtues and social capital; are marginalized to the point of irrelevance.”

This purpose of this paper is to continue to argue the importance of adding policy as a fifth element in Deming’s SPK by studying the dynamics surrounding the Spellings Commission Report and the attempts at reframing notions of quality and quality assurance at institutions of higher education in the USA. The first part of this paper continues the discussions as to the merits of including public policy as part of SPK while the second part of this paper uses the hoped for impact of the Spellings Commission Report to illustrate how public policy does shape institutional definitions of quality at a strategic as well as compliance levels of institutional actions.


Accreditation; quality assurance; policy; Deming’s System of Profound Knowledge (SPK)


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