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After a year of studying some of the nation's best-run companies, Lee Parks, a special-education professor, has come to the conclusion that educators can take a lesson from businessmen.

"I have found there's a lot that public-school administrators can learn from the private sector--especially when it comes to people management and motivation," said Mr. Parks, who was on sabbatic leave from the University of Idaho while he researched his study on private-sector management.

Businesses routinely provide "reinforcement" to their employees, said Mr. Parks, who added that he has "found no comparable interest in the public schools regarding the use of reinforcement for their employees."

His research also reveals a wide disparity between the way businesses advance and promote their employees and the way the public schools advance teachers. Many businesses have systems for identifying employees who are talented and capable of moving up in the profession, Mr. Parks said, but in public schools there is no opportunity to advance. "Either you are [a teacher] or you aren't," he said.

Business managers he interviewed "couldn't believe" that schools can't develop a system to pay teachers based on their performance, he said.

Other areas in which the schools could learn from business are public relations and productivity, said Mr. Parks.

The best companies have well-defined customer-complaint systems and devote substantial resources to public relations, Mr. Parks found. "A business's relationship with its customers strongly determines whether it will thrive or fail," he said.

In order to improve their productivity, Mr. Parks suggested that schools imitate some private-sector methods, such as instituting a staff-development program and clearly defined minimum-performance standards, allowing employees to make management decisions, and continuously measuring customer response to services and products.

Researchers at the University of Michigan have concluded that "coaching" programs for students taking standardized examinations vary widely in their effectiveness--and that students often can improve their scores simply by taking some sample tests.

In a report on their analysis of 108 studies of coaching programs, staff members at the university's Center for Research on Learning and Teaching recommended that students ask for evidence of each coaching course's success before enrolling in a program.

Surprisingly, said James A. Kulik, the director of the study, coaching programs for the general-aptitude and achievement tests are equally effective. "People often assume that you can be coached for achievement tests, but that aptitude tests are not as susceptible to coaching,'' he said.

Courses that prepare students for tests can raise their scores by an average of 7 or 8 points on aptitude tests and by about three months on a grade-equivalent scale on achievement tests, he said.

The coaching programs for the Scholastic Aptitude Test, the researchers found, were less effective than the programs for other standardized tests. But the researchers also said information about individual coaching programs was insufficient to conclude that the sat is "coach-proof."

By simply taking one or two sample tests, the researchers concluded, a student can significantly increase his or her score. "A single practice trial ... produced a gain of three [intelligence-quotient] points or two months on a grade-equivalent scale," the researchers wrote in their report. The gain was twice that when the practice test closely resembled the actual test.

Mr. Kulik, a research scientist at the center, was assisted in the study by Chen-Lin C. Kulik, assistant research scientist, and Robert L. Bangert-Drowns, a research assistant and a doctoral student in education and psychology.

Vol. 03, Issue 11

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