Pareto Principle in Education

When my colleagues and I work with schools, we ask the educators to focus their SMART goals on just a few important student learning needs. These are known as the “vital few” high-leverage areas where the largest gaps between vision and current reality exist.

By focusing on only the vital few needs, greater gains can be achieved, not only in the goal area, but in all other parts of the system that are affected by the achievement of that goal.

This is the underlying benefit of the Pareto principle, first developed by Vilfredo Pareto, a 14th-century economist who discovered that 20 percent of the people held 80 percent of the wealth. The idea was adapted by Joseph Juran in the 1980s as part of the burgeoning quality movement to describe the phenomenon of improvements occurring across the board when focusing on just a few of the problems.

Juran, an organizational development authority, was the first to write about the importance of focusing on the vital few to take care of the “essential many.” The trick is to isolate those that are truly the vital few. The answer is in the data.

— Anne Conzemius