In search of productivity

Productivity is finally on the education agenda, writes Eduwonk, recommending Paul Hill and Marguerite Roza’s new paper on improving productivity in K-12 schools.

On EdReformer, Tom Vander Ark has productivity ideas too, starting with “blended learning.”

1. Require all students to take at least one online course each year of high school and negotiate a 10-20% discount with multiple online providers and give students/schools options.

2. Provide statewide access to multiple online learning providers and reimburse at 80% of traditional schools (with performance incentives for serving challenging populations).

3. Encourage K-8 schools to adopt a Rocketship-style schedule with 25% of student time in a computer learning lab and a tiered staffing model that makes long day/year affordable. A loan program to upgrade to a 1:3 computer ratio would support adoption of a blended model and could be repaid out of savings.

Schools also could boost productivity by encouraging students to finish high school in three years or take dual-enrollment classes to earn high school and community college credits, Vander Ark writes.

He has more ideas for managing facilities more efficiently and making changes at the state level.

Update:  As education spending rose in California, the percentage of classroom spending fell, concludes a Pepperdine study that ended before the wave of teacher lay-offs.

More of the funding increase went to administrators, clerks and technical staff and less to teachers, textbooks, materials and teacher aides, the study found. It was partially funded by a California Chamber of Commerce foundation.

Total K-12 spending increased by $10 billion over the five-year period ending June 30, 2009, from $45.6 billion to $55.6 billion statewide. It rose at a rate greater than the increase in inflation or personal income, according to the study. Yet researchers found that classroom spending dipped from 59 percent of education funding to 57.8 percent over the five years.

“Some districts with the least amount of overall funding devoted the greatest percentage to direct classroom spending,” AP reports.

About Joanne


  1. georgelarson says:

    To boost productivity wouldn’t it be easier to eliminate back office and administrative workers via automation or improved management?

  2. Cranberry says:

    Are there any other schools showing improvement through technology? I’ve read enough paeans to Rocketship. There are quite a few exceptional schools in this country, each using their own methods. ONE exceptional school does not mean that a particular method will work for ANY school.

    I also agree with georgelarson. If state officials want to increase schools’ productivity, the first place to look is at the bureaucratic demands the schools are required to fulfill. Cutting down on the useless paperwork would increase productivity. It would also save some trees.

  3. Amy in Texas says:

    amen, George.

  4. “Require all students to take at least one online course each year of high school”

    I’d think it would be much more effective to *combine* an on-line segment and an in-person segment *within the same course* rather than push a pure on-line course.

    Assuming the objective is to actually *teach* something and not just to fill in check boxes on a form.

  5. Prometheus says:

    I have my doubts about computer time being the answer to productivity issues. I am a technophile and I still say that computers are just one tool among many, and should be used as such. There is a deeper issue of societal contempt for excellence that leaves a lot of kids totally unwilling to achieve, and that is probably the biggest issue with productivity in schools.

    Never mind the rest of society’s ills that spill over into the classroom.

  6. Michael Fiorillo says:

    From an updated version of The Devils’ Dictionary:

    Productivity (n): a code word that relates to the state or condition of fewer people doing more work for less money.

  7. Vinicius says:

    In Chicago, we have CEO deformer named Huberman, who wants to show us how “innovative” he is by building like minded do nothings called a Performance Management Team in place. This is an ever growing layer of administrators who are making over $100,000+ dollars a year. This every growing top layer of clowns cannot look at teachers in the eyes since we all know they serve no real purpose other than collect a check and make pretty graphs. The group has been FREE of cuts while we we lose another 400 teachers next week for the year round track E schools and then a month later more teachers will be terminated. The productivity they are selling is a canard. On another note, Huberman has not responded to the request by Karen Lewis to open the fiscal books. What does Huberman have to hide?

  8. Productivity (n): a code word that relates to the state or condition of fewer people doing more work for less money.

    And since the purpose of the public education system is strive for ever more people doing ever less work for more money, that would wrong.

  9. Hold on a minute. Require a all students to take an online course every year? Require it? Thou shalt learn online or else?

    Look, I’m as sanguine about the potential for online learning as anyone, especially as a means of getting low-SES kids in front of quality instruction when their neighborhood schools aren’t cutting it. But this looks like an emerging manifestation of Pondiscio’s Law: Every good idea in education becomes a bad idea the moment it becomes orthodoxy.

    Let’s have online learning driven by great content and instruction, please. Not because tech companies and their promoters see a pot of gold that others are “required” to fill for them.

  10. Productivity (n): a code word that relates to the state or condition of fewer people doing more work for less money.

    Considering that every single dollar spent by public schools is taken by threat of force (or taxed, if you prefer the euphemism) from private citizens, increasing productivity should be thing number one.

    We Californians pay four times as much to produce the same test scores as 1970. That’s 75% of our current education budget being *absolutely wasted* in terms of productivity. Every pedagogical method adopted in California since 1970 is suspect in this massive productivity slip, as is the rampant proliferation of non-teaching administrators.

    Unfortunately, I don’t see much productivity benefit in the measures proposed by Vander Ark. In terms of business process optimization, it makes no sense. To get real gains in education productivity, the focus has to be on what teachers (and others in the system) do to deliver an education. The content and pedagogical methods are the important factors, not whether it is online. In addition, the incentives that are driving the proliferation of non-teaching administrators have to be addressed.

  11. here’s a staggeringly-clarifying productivity metric: cost per college ready graduate It slices through all of the confusion.

    (again mindful of the argument about whether college readiness is the appropriate benchmark … I stand in favor of having literate citizens: it doesn’t mean they have to go to college, but they they make the choice. … but let’s not spin down that spiral again.)

    With a solid metric in place, then all of the questions of means and methods: on line courses, non- teaching employees, professional development can be compared and evaluated.

  12. I’m Enjoying the discussion. Online education viewed as a whole is not good or bad. Instead, there are both good and bad offerings in online education. Most schools try to be good consumers of education. I find schools using online classes to boost productivity in a variety of ways. Students who are not successful in a classroom setting still work toward graduation rather than dropping out. Scheduling conflicts are negotiated using online class options – i.e. Orchestra conflicts with a Math class, so the student does math as online independent study. Under-resourced schools can offer a wider variety of classes using online options. I applaud schools looking for options for productivity which are student focused.

  13. Making learning online a requirement shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing. Imagine how many companies you would apply to for your first job out of college ,or while in college, that have most of their human resources, client, and interpersonal services in the cloud.

    It boggles the mind that people continue to think of education as a place where technology should be held in suspicion. I was talking to a teacher recently who teaches math. She told me that she doesn’t like technology. Imagine that. A professional educator teaching young children how to think to unpack complex equations and think logically about abstract and concrete facts, who doesn’t like or appreciate technology!

    Why does this happen? I think those who are talking about a blended way of learning have it right. There’s never any replacement of the teacher. In fact, there could be more teachers, blending their person to person time with proctoring of online content that expands a student’s real time knowledge of the web, the world, and his or her own mind.

    Forget calculators! Let’s work on hydro-electric projects in real time with real engineers, using real math, with the Internets! Damn right it should be a requirement….

  14. SuperSub says:

    Douglas –

    First off, there is no problem at all regarding the “dislike” of technology in the math classroom. Students are supposed to learn math in the math classroom, and while technology might enable some teachers to be more effective, it could just as likely become a handicap for teachers who are better with non-technology means. Secondly, student over-use of technology breds dependence that prevents them from understanding and using the concepts that they are supposed to be learning.

    As for expanding their knowledge of the web… the majority of websites are either businesses, games, or porn. Unfortunately, the number of sites that are informative and reliable are rather small. Secondly, as much as the Internet has become a factor in most American’s lives, most do not use it to consult with engineers who are building bridges…they use it for the three main types of websites listed above. It is truly a consumer-driven economy, and most people don’t want knowledge. So, while students should be taught about the very limited number of sites that they can use for learning, the Internet as a whole does not belong in school.

    Finally, there is not a single benefit for students to work with real engineers on dams. Students will not have the requisite knowledge to add anything substantial to the engineer’s design, nor will they have the basic knowledge to understand any of the math or physics that goes into the design of the dam should the engineer take the time to explain anything.

    If I could design and equip a school, I’d put computers and lots of other technology into many classrooms…but the school would function on its own network that would NOT be connected to the Internet. Student use of technology would largely be limited to specific applications that I have chosen beforehand for the lesson. Technology can improve productivity in school, but its use must be carefully selected and students must be tightly managed with it.

  15. Any entity that functions on the basis of seat time (13 years), as opposed to knowledge/skills learned, isn’t really interested in productivity. At the same time that many kids need more time and more repetition to acquire grade/course-level knowledge/skills, many kids could acquire them in less time. In that world, public education could vary between 9-15 years, according to individual ability and motivation.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Joanne Jacobs, edReformer. edReformer said: In search of productivity […]

  2. […] A pitch for “productivity” as the next big education thing. (Joanne Jacobs) […]

  3. […] A pitch for “productivity” as the next big education thing. (Joanne Jacobs) […]

  4. […] Litttle Basic Math In California on July 24, 2010 at 5:46 pm I saw this article mentioned earlier this week, but didn’t put two and two together initially (ha! math joke!). The title is […]