Friday, January 21, 2011

Productivity and Efficiency in Education

The words in the title are very foreign to educators, and to some educators, they raise concerns that we are trying to be more like the business world. Let me say up front that education is an extremely complex social institution that is impacted by many factors other than the classroom. I do, however, believe that educators can certainly improve operational processes to make them more productive and efficient and, in turn, invest the savings in support for classrooms.

I also believe that classroom teachers can improve the learning results in their classrooms by improving key learning processes. The key processes such as instruction and student engagement must constantly be reviewed and improved in light of the student learning results.

Last week in my blog, I talked about the “new normal” that educators are facing. This new normal requires us to do much more to help more students achieve at higher levels and to achieve these results with fewer dollars than we have had in the past. I mentioned that I would be focusing this year on benchmarking, productivity and efficiency. This blog provides access to some recent articles and resources that may help readers gain a better understanding of the discussion that is taking place across education and government circles.

Of course, education is not alone in this issue of productivity. We are joined by health care, government, non-profit and all business sectors. Our challenge in education is not replicate business efforts, but to create sector specific language and improvement efforts.

This week, I reviewed a new report from the Center for American Progress: Return on Educational Investment: A District by District Evaluation of US Education Productivity. The link to the report is

While there have been many efforts over the years to define “return on investment,” productivity, efficiency and outcomes of education, it is extremely difficult to accomplish due to the complexity of education. This does not mean that we can ignore this issue as educators. Given the difficult economic situation that most states and school districts are facing, this is a time when we as educators must have a better understanding of terms like productivity and efficiency. A quote from the report provides insight into the debate:

"Our nation’s school system has for too long failed to ensure that education funding consistently promotes strong student achievement. After adjusting for inflation, education spending per student has nearly tripled over the past four decades. But while some states and districts have spent their additional dollars wisely—and thus shown significant increases in student outcomes—overall student achievement has largely remained flat. And besides Luxembourg, the United States spends more per student than any of the 65 countries that participated in a recent international reading assessment, and while Estonia and Poland scored at the same level as the United States on the exam, the United States spent roughly $60,000 more to educate each student to age 15 than either nation."

For additional information on quality, continuous improvement, productivity, efficiency and similar terms in education, I offer some of my favorite resources.

Baldrige National Quality Program --
Readers may be most interested in the education criteria and the award recipients from education.

American Society for Quality --

American Productivity Quality Council --

All three of these resources offer a number of free materials for educators. Educators will need to make their own decisions about purchases of products. I am not endorsing any particular product.

Look for more resources and links in the coming months. While I will continue to focus on asking legislators to fully fund SEEK and Flexible Focus Funds, educators also must look to productivity and efficiency for savings. I am excited about the work being done with energy management in most school districts in partnership with the Kentucky School Boards Association. This model is exactly the type of approach that educators can use in other operational processes.

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