Friday, February 11, 2011

Productivity Study - On the Right Track, Almost

As reported in EdWeek recently, the Center for American Progress has released their report on the productivity of thousands of school districts across the country.  The study compares district spending per student to achievement on standardized tests. They found that "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."

Some of their conclusions are fascinating but not surprising - there were mixed results. For example, some of the higher performing districts spent much less than others, low performing urban school districts spent more than higher-performing similar districts in many cases, and suburban districts with almost identical demographics spent widely ranging amounts. The study did not uncover clear reasons for these differences and similarities - that will be the next study I imagine.

What's lacking in this study, as with many other recent reports on district productivity (the new buzz word), is solid recommendations for what to do to make school districts more efficient. What's missing is the focus on PROCESS improvement.

All work is a process and all processes cost money. Districts lose money every day on disorganized and complicated processes, many driven by outdated or unrealistic policies and assumptions. Until district leadership gathers their cross-functional teams to analyze what they are doing and why they are doing it, productivity will not go up. Using an organized approach with process improvement tools will enable teams to identify wasted time and effort. It will also uncover the sacred cows and the elephants in the corner that must be dealt with and eliminated.

Only by focusing on process redesign can district leaders give more time and money back to student programs that really work and where funding really belongs.

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