K12 Performance Improvement
K12 Performance Improvement Research

As Alfred North Whitehead famously said, "the art of progress is to preserve order amid change, and to preserve change amid order."

Two papers are on our must-read list for anyone who wants to get involved in improving K12 performance. The first is "Data-Driven Accountability and Improvement" which does an excellent job of explaining the critical differences between these two concepts. The other will be near and dear to the heart of anyone who has done turnarounds or performance improvement work in the private sector: "The Missing Link in School Reform”, which emphasizes the critical role of social capital and teamwork.

Two new OECD reports that accompanied the December 2016 release of the most recent international PISA test results make for very interesting reads. One looks at the US results in more detail, and the other takes a deep dive into the results in Massachusetts, which is our best performing state.

From the Harvard Business Review comes this research on the four different types of school leaders in the UK, and which does the best job of improving long-term student achievement performance. A must read.

While the rapid improvement in multiple technologies has transformed most sectors of the global economy, education has lagged behind. We were thus very interested to read two new reports. This one on Data-Driven Education (a critical enabler of blended/adaptive and competency based education), and this one on “Teaching in the Machine Age.”

As we’ve said numerous times, policy change (like strategy in the business world) is usually a necessary but far from sufficient requirement for performance improvement; you also have to get your hands dirty, and recognize the two-steps forward/one step back, constantly experimenting reality of changing a complex adaptive system. This research paper on the importance of "Effective Implementation" adds further insight on this issue.

John Hattie, author of Visible Learning, has perhaps done more than any other researcher to employ consistent, rigorous analysis of what works -- and what doesn't -- in the cause of K12 performance improvement. His two most recent papers (published in June 2015) continue this trend. In the first, he criticizes the amount of time and hope being invested in what he calls "distractions" -- initiatives to improve student achievement that thus far have no produced substantial Effect Sizes (a measure of an initiative's impact). In the second, he focuses on a critical issue: that the variability of achievement results across classrooms within our schools is much larger than the variability of average results across schools themselves. He highlights the range of issues that account for this effect, and the obstacles that so far have prevented us from successfully addressing them. Both of these papers are well worth a read.

Two of the world's leading consulting firms have also published thought provoking research on K12 performance improvement. From BCG comes "Achieving More for Less in US Education" , and "A Business Leader's Guide to Supporting America's Schools", while McKinsey offers insights on "How the World's Most Improved School Systems Keep Getting Better." And here is a research paper that highlights why excellent management is critical in K12 education. Finally, you should read these three interesting reports from a combined Harvard Business School and BCG team on K12 performance issues. They include a look at school performance, a guide to improving it, and a survey of Superintendents' perceptions of business leaders as partners.

On the other end of the spectrum, this Third Way reports provides grim evidence about the number of middle class schools that are failing to produce adequate achievement results.

After reading the Third Way report, it is interesting to reflect on the results of the polling data on what parents are looking for in schools that is contained in this report. And here is the most recent Education Next/Harvard Graduate School of Education poll on the state of America's schools.

This Washington Post column on the difference between teachers and sports stars is very thought provoking about some of the sources of the poor performance of our K12 education system. So to is this new article in the Economist on effective teaching, and this one too.

More uplifting are these four documents: The first is an article from the New York Times on how raising achievement performance expectations produced significant gains in Massachusetts. The second is a report on What Matters Most for Student Success. The third is this excellent article by the Brookings Institution, that is solidly grounded in research, about the performance gains that can be achieved through the effective implementation of an integrated program of proven initiatives. And the fourth is a more general article on "getting better at getting better" and how it applies to K-12.

Here's a new paper by Stanford's Eric Hanushek that links the quality of a state's human capital -- and the effectiveness of its K12 education system -- to its GDP growth rate. And here is an excellent research paper from Harvard on the impact of using charter-school best practices in public schools.

One of the problems that keeps coming up in many districts is the failure to link goals to the changes in activities that are intended to achieve them, and to link activity changes to budget changes. People coming to K12 from the private sector are inevitably surprised by the relatively low quality of the cost data that is available, and the slim use of activity based costing (ABC) to provide high quality management cost data for use in decision making. This research paper provides an example of how ABC was used in one K12 situation, and the insights that it produced. Closely related to this issue is this new paper on how more effective K12 CFOs -- who see their role as closer to a private sector "strategic partner" CFO, and less as a traditional "controller" focused K12 CFO -- can help to accelerate performance improvement in a district.

Last but certainly not least, it is increasingly clear that, as in other professional services firms, first line leaders -- whether you call them principals or Managing Directors or office heads -- are critical to high performance professional teams. Four new papers make this point, and examine different aspects of this issue with a specific focus on the critical role of K12 principals. You can download them here, here, here, and here.