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Students, schools and taxpayers alike could benefit from an annual review of a campus’ productivity

February 20, 2014 3 minute Read by William McKenzie

Charles Miller is the godfather in Texas, if not the country, of the growing school of thought known as educational productivity. The Houston businessman has been making the argument for several years that the school accountability movement needs to go beyond the idea of testing. The movement must now include a look at whole school systems.

That was Miller’s point last week at an education conference at the Bush Institute. The session was on the subject of education productivity. The Institute for Public School Initiatives in the College of Education at the University of Texas at Austin and the Institute for Productivity in Education co-hosted the gathering, which the Bush Institute’s Patrick Kobler describes in this post.

Looking at whole school systems means examining how well schools, districts and even states are organized to best make the most of their education resources. In recent sessions, Miller has advocated for the Texas Legislature to create a government unit to evaluate how well schools maximize the investments made in them. He would have that entity rank schools each year, just like they annually evaluate the academic performance of campuses.

I have no problem with that. By focusing on how schools operate, a state could show taxpayers how well a campus is managing their money. That’s old-fashioned fiscal responsibility.

But there’s also an element in here that would benefit students. For example, a review of their operations could help them understand what instructional materials most help students. A principal then could expand those materials and jettison the others.

Focusing on effectiveness also could help teachers. For example, if annual evaluations show that an educator added little to a student’s growth in a subject, then the school could get the teachers the training they need.

Here’s one more reason this focus on school productivity makes sense. School accountability must mean more than simply testing.

Miller made that point last week, and he is right. Tests undoubtedly are a big part of the way we can tell whether schools are effective. But exams are only one element of the larger goal of improving the performance of schools.

Looking at how they use their resources also can point the way forward. Miller sees this approach as a game-changer. I don’t know if it alone will change the game, but examining the productivity of schools is one sure way to figure out how well they do their work.


Author

William McKenzie
William McKenzie

William McKenzie is editorial director for the George W. Bush Institute, where he also serves as editor of The Catalyst: A Journal of Ideas from the Bush Institute.

Active in education issues, he co-teaches an education policy class at SMU’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development. He also participates in the Bush Institute’s school accountability project.

Before joining the Bush Institute, the Fort Worth native served 22 years as an editorial columnist for the Dallas Morning News and led the newspaper’s Texas Faith blog. The University of Texas graduate’s columns appeared nationwide and he has won a Pulitzer Prize and commentary awards from the Education Writers Association, the American Academy of Religion, and the Texas Headliners Foundation, among other organizations. He still contributes columns and essays for the Morning News and The Weekly Standard.

Before joining the News in 1991, he earned a master’s degree in political science from the University of Texas at Arlington and spent a dozen years in Washington, D.C. During that time, he edited the Ripon Forum.

McKenzie has served as a Pulitzer Prize juror, on the board of a homeless organization, and on governing committees of a Dallas public school. He also is an elder of the First Presbyterian Church in Dallas, where he lives with his wife and their twin children.

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