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Efficiency and Productivity Issues in the Texas Public School System

July 26, 2012 5 minute Read by Sandy Kress

Today, Elizabeth Ettema and Krishanu Sengupta published a paper they authored on Efficiency and Productivity Issues in the Texas Public School System. In these times of limited resources and fiscal strain, it may be more important than ever for states and school districts to use available funds for education as efficiently and productively as possible. This is even more so today because of the increasing need to educate our young people generally to the higher standard of true readiness for college or career. In their paper, Ettema and Sengupta review both economic and education research to identify characteristics that typify enterprises that are efficient. In sum, they focus on the following principles of x-efficiency set out in the work of Henry Levin: 1) A clear objective outcome with measurable outcomes, 2) Incentives that are linked to success on the objective function, 3) Efficient access to useful information for decisions, 4) Adaptability to meet changing conditions, and 5) Use of the most productive technology consistent with cost constraints. The authors proceed to evaluate the degree to which the state of Texas in its law and policy follows these principles in its use of resources in two areas crucial to the successful education of students. These two areas are the effectiveness of teachers and the impact of the instructional materials they use. This analysis should be of interest to decision makers  at the state level as they consider both policy matters and the allocation of resources related to education. But this may be more important than simply calling upon better judgment by state officials. The constitution of the state actually mandates that the Legislature "establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools," as the general diffusion of knowledge [is]...essential to the provision of the liberties and rights of the people." In other words, the state constitution has set a goal of the general diffusion of knowledge and has required that it be accomplished through an efficient system of schools. This raises important questions which this paper discusses. In response to the constitutional mandate, does the state establish outcomes to measure the general diffusion of knowledge? Is the state mindful of efficiency and effectiveness in its policy making and resource allocation? Does the state implement its policies and resources in a rational and effective manner consistent with the principles of efficiency to achieve the constitutionally established goals? More particularly, in two of the areas of state activity that matter significantly to the achievement of the constitutional goal, do we or do we not see the principles of efficiency effectively applied? The paper applauds the state for its effort to define outcomes and set general accountability for reaching those outcomes. But the paper is deeply critical of state law and policy with respect to its failure to adhere reasonably to the principles of efficiency in several matters relating to assuring effective teachers in the classroom and their use of the most effective instructional materials. As the paper concludes: "While the Texas constitution has established a clear objective function for the state school system and assessments are in place to measure the outcome, it does not appear that the Texas education system shares the other four characteristics of x-efficient enterprises as identified by Levin. Given the constitutional mandate for efficiency and the difficult economy, it may be a good time for the state to remedy this situation." This paper will generate considerable discussion in Texas and indeed all around the country about these issues of efficiency and productivity. It is simply  imperative that state governments and local districts use public resources as effectively as possible to get as many of our  young people as we possibly can to the goal of graduation from high school ready for postsecondary success. This post was written by Sandy Kress, an Education Reform Fellow at the George W. Bush Institute. 

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