Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Improving Productivity in Public Education ... TV Show Airing Sunday Evening

We are spending more and more money and witnessing very little improvement, if any, in our public schools.

In a private business, innovation is essential if a company is to be able to avoid bankruptcy. Profit is the cost of staying in business, and profit requires satisfied customers.

So if any business doesn't continuously increase the quality of its products and services while simultaneously reducing costs through productivity gains, the firm's existing or new competition will persuade its customers to choose its offerings in the competitive marketplace.

Of course, unions don't relish competition and neither do most government bureaucrats. Except when they're involved with making their own individual purchasing decisions, of course.

All self interested individuals are able without hesitation to differentiate between MOM based and OPM decisions in our personal lives, but when OPM is within the reach of union and government officials, well, that's often another story altogether.

Still, Juan Williams offers hope for what the scientific method can bring in A High-Tech Fix for Broken Schools. His TV special "Fixing Our Schools" airs Sunday evening on Fox at 9 p.m. Eastern time:

"Mooresville, N.C., is best known as "Race City, U.S.A.," home of Nascar. But these days Mooresville is leading the nation in a different way—by using digital technology to improve public education. . . .

Our schools are undoubtedly in crisis. Prize-winning documentaries such as "Waiting for 'Superman'" have revealed the terrible cost of losing young minds to failing schools. Dropout rates are particularly high among minority children in urban schools. But even parents in the best suburban schools are alarmed by the fact that the U.S. now ranks 30th world-wide in math, 23rd in science, and 17th in literacy.

This is why the modestly funded schools in Mooresville are drawing national attention. The school district ranks 100th out of 115 school districts in North Carolina on per-pupil spending. But in the last 10 years, its test scores have pushed it from a middling rank among North Carolina's school districts to a tie for second place.

Three years ago, 73% of Mooresville's students tested as proficient in math, reading and science. Today, 89% are proficient in those subjects.

The big change in Mooresville began when Superintendent Mark Edwards took the radical step of cutting back on teachers and using the money to give every student from third grade through high school a laptop computer.


Third and fourth graders work on computers at St. Lucas Lutheran School in Kewaskum

All of their textbooks, notes, learning materials and assignments are computerized, allowing teachers and parents to track their progress in real time. If a student is struggling, their computer-learning program can be adjusted to meet their needs and get them back up to speed. And the best students no longer wait on slow students to catch up. Top students are constantly pushed to their limits by new curricular material on their laptops.

Nearly every phase of students' education is a data-point that can be tracked, analyzed and compared with their peers. Thanks to the data system, Mr. Edwards says, "our teachers are better informed, our parents are better informed, and our students are understanding what they're doing and why they're doing it." He notes, by the way, that digital learning hasn't increased costs.

Some 600 miles north of Moorseville, New York City's "School of One" in Brooklyn has had similar success with a digital-learning program. The mathematics-centered middle school has reported significant gains in the test scores of its students since it was founded in 2009. Joel Klein, the former chancellor of the New York City public schools, helped initiate the program and is now one of the leading proponents for digital learning.

"Think about how different the world is today in terms of the media, in terms of medicine, in terms of the way people really experience their lives, and education is stuck in a 19th-century model," Mr. Klein explains. "So I'm convinced that we can [use computers to] change the way we educate our kids." He adds that the computers don't remove the need for good teachers but help "teachers do their work in a much more effective way." . . .

The bottom line is that bringing more technology into the classroom shows tremendous promise to improve schools. And any doubters should take a look at the little school district now speeding along in Mooresville."

Summing Up

Getting "more for less" serves as the foundation for productivity improvements. More education at a lower cost fits that description exactly.

In other words, more output for less input equates to better test scores and fewer teachers being aided by technology or computers. But using the ingenuity and creativity of educators to create and build a better educational "mousetrap" is the key.

Accordingly, giving teachers the tools and freedom to experiment with new teaching methods and time use is an absolute winner.

So is technology when used properly.

As is parental choice with respect to their children's education.

Mooresville is proof of the success of that very simple formula.

Let's spread the word and not be afraid to change.

We can't change anything if we aren't first willing and able to change our minds.

Thanks. Bob.

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