Sunday, August 12, 2012

Efficiency in public education

So legislators want to examine "efficiency" in public schools. (What happened to waste, fraud and abuse?) As always, the problem starts with defining the term. I thought efficiency means faster, better, greater output with the same inputs and so on. Apparently to these lawmakers, efficiency means "cheaper".

Discussions will inevitably center on how to spend less, and as items such buildings costs, transportation and utilities are relatively fixed that means they will focus in on payrolls. This is not necessarily a bad thing. We can all think of areas where people are overpaid and underworked, and of people who should not be employed.

The problem is defining and measuring efficiency requires not just looking at inputs and processes, but defining and measuring outputs. What is the typical ecucational output, especially for these legislators? Yep, test scores.

We have been down this road before. The focus on testing in English and Math directly caused the demise of science, social studies, art, music. Expect now to see fewer college counselors, career and guidance counselors, social and relationship counselors to start with. Cleaners and janitors do not raise test scores. Neither do crossing guards. And so on.

Instead of seeking "efficiencies", what if these legislators were to ask themselves, "What do want from our schools?" and then to work backwards from there?

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