More Information to Help Business Leaders Improve K12 Performance

If you thought that K-12 performance improvement wasn't a problem for kids from affluent families and communities, read this report, and think again. Business really does have to get involved in K-12, regardless of the conflict that may involve. And if you want to read a very sobering report about the declining relative strength of America’s cognitive skills, check out “Millennials and the Future” by the Educational Testing Service (ETS).

You can also read this 2015 report from Georgetown University, which provides a very detailed analysis of how the educational requirements associated with various jobs in our economy are rapidly increasing, and why more than ever before, the quality of our K-12 schools is intimately related to our rate of economic growth.

The Council on Foreign Relations has also published an extensive report on how America’s failure to improve K-12 student achievement is adversely affecting our national security.

Another sobering read on this topic is former Lockheed CEO Norman Augustine’s recent article, “The Eroding Foundations of US National Security”, in which he continues his campaign to substantially improve the performance of America’s public schools. Augustine stresses “how quickly a leadership position in science or engineering can vanish in the face of the rapid rate of change in these fields”, noting that only 24 percent of college bound seniors met all four of the ACT “college and career ready” benchmarks, while only 15 percent met the higher benchmarks for students intending to major in STEM fields. He also warns that “this is not a formula for continued success by a nation whose citizens are accustomed to a lifestyle supported by a GDP-per-capita that is six times that of the average for the rest of the world.”

It is not as though students, professors, and employers are unaware of the magnitude of the educational challenge we face. Achieve, Inc. recently released the last of its reports on the results of its survey of students, employees, higher education, and parents on the extent to which high school students are graduating college and career ready and well-prepared for what lies ahead. The results are contained in Report 1 Report 2 and Report 3.

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.

If you have ever wondered where your views on K-12 fit in the spectrum of views held by other people? Two new polls can help you answer this question. The first is by Harvard and EducationNext (story, detailed data). The second is by PDK/Gallup (story, detailed data). Unsurprisingly, it turns out that the way a pollster asks a question has a large impact on some poll results. Here is one story comparing the EdNext and Gallup Polls, and here is another one. Finally, this story and this one both address the extent of the Democrat/Republican partisan divide on education issues.

And if you were ever in any doubt about the organizational challenges that must be overcome if we are to substantially improve student achievement results, read this excellent article from the Naval War College Review.

When dealing with K-12, particularly with superintendents and school boards, business leaders are likely to hear the term “Carver Governance”. It refers to an approach to governance that most business leaders will find strange, to say the least. This briefing will prepare you to effectively engage with supporters of the Carver approach.

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 K-12 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 K-12 CFOs -- who see their role as closer to a private sector "strategic partner" CFO, and less as a traditional "controller" focused K-12 CFO -- can help to accelerate performance improvement in a district.

There are undoubtedly many root causes of our K-12 achievement problems that we will ultimately have to address in order to substantially improve our performance. Among those that are very familiar to business leaders is the return on investment in professional development.

In the UK, the Teacher Development Trust recently published an excellent synthesis of the available research on high and low performing teacher professional development programs. As this issue seems to be a continuing hot button here too, it should be an interesting read. Shortly after the UK report was published, another new report was published in the US ("The Mirage" by the New Teacher Project) on the high cost and low effectiveness of teacher professional development programs in the US. Did you know that, accounting for time and cash costs, the districts studied invested an average of $18,000 per teacher per year in PD? And essentially got zero return on this investment. Stunning.

You can read the Washington Post's take on the report here, and download the report itself here. And you can download four more commentaries on the Mirage, here, here, here, and here. All make for thought provoking reading on this critical subject. So to do Brooking’s latest thoughts on teacher professional development. Finally, to put the Mirage report into its proper context, go back and read (or re-read) The Widget Effect, The New Teacher Project’s previous report that criticized K-12's failure to recognize and act on differences in teacher effectiveness. Also take a look at this new analysis of “What Ails Teacher PD” and this report on how teacher PD works in high performing school systems. All of these point to high leverage opportunities for business to work with K12 to improve a critical process, in an area that is also a high priority for many companies.

On a positive note, this new piece of research from McKinsey helps point the way towards how districts can increase the returns from their large investments in professional development.

This research highlights the opportunity for business leaders to help improve K12 performance by mentoring a school principal, either informally or as a member of a school's Accountability Committee. 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 services 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. Also useful is this new report from the RAND Corporation on preparing principals to improve academic achievement. Finally, here is a copy of the Colorado state rubric that is used to evaluate principals’ and assistant principals’ performance.