School & District Management

Pilot Project Will Enable Districts to Compare Effectiveness

By Lynn Olson — March 01, 2005 4 min read

Nearly two dozen districts soon will be able to compare the effectiveness and efficiency with which they assess student achievement, recruit and select teachers, and manage their information-technology systems, thanks to a pilot project launched by the Houston-based American Productivity and Quality Center.

The Open Standards Benchmarking Collaborative for education will enable 22 districts across the United States to frame common terms and definitions for how they collect data in core areas related to both their instructional and management practices. The three areas targeted for the pilot were identified by the districts as top priorities that have a significant effect on student achievement, and for which they could collect measurable data.

Over the next year, the center’s staff will design surveys to collect qualitative and quantitative data from the participating districts. The information will be validated and “blinded” to protect the name of each district, and then entered into a database that is accessible to all districts in the pilot. Each district will receive reports that compare its performance with the mean, median, and top performer for each process examined.

The focus will be on cost-effectiveness; staff productivity, such as the number of full-time employees needed to produce a student transcript; process efficiency, such as error rates; and cycle time, such as the duration of time from a job posting to the acceptance of a job offer.

A similar database will enable districts to see how they measure up to some of the nation’s leading businesses, as well as government agencies, and health-care organizations, where the processes are similar, including such companies as IBM, Shell Oil, and Bank of America.

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“Business, governmental, and health-care organizations have known for years that if you are to improve outcomes, you must improve processes,” said Jack Grayson, the chairman and chief executive officer of the productivity center, a nonprofit group with more than 12 years of experience in benchmarking best practices in the corporate and government sectors.

“But most education systems do not have useful process measures and metrics,” he said, “nor do they compare with others to see gaps and learn best practices to close the gaps.”

Working Better, Faster

Through the standards-benchmarking research, Mr. Grayson said, educators can ask where the same work is being done better, faster, or with fewer dollars, and learn how they could do it that way, too.

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“We really haven’t had an opportunity or an avenue through which to do very standardized benchmarking within our own industry, within education,” said Tricia Kennedy, the executive director for curriculum and instruction in the 136,000-student Gwinnett County, Ga., school system, one of the districts participating in the pilot.

Like some of the other participants, Gwinnett County had been involved in a voluntary consortium, the Educational Benchmarking Network, that tried to share information across school systems, primarily in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern regions.

“That effort was essentially a homegrown effort by the participating districts, totally supported by them,” said James S. Johnson Jr., a special-projects administrator for the 165,000-student Fairfax County, Va., public schools, another participant in the APQC project. “It took a lot of effort on the part of individual members, and it was just difficult to maintain, difficult to even develop a really comprehensive set of measures that we could work with.”

A similar network, the Western States Benchmarking Consortium, has been active in the Western region of the country. Other districts were asked to take part in the pilot because they had won or were finalists for the Broad Foundation Prize for Urban Education, are part of the Public Education Leadership Project at Harvard University, had won or applied for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award or a similar state quality award, or had been recommended by others.

Time Commitment

The productivity center has committed $400,000 in seed money for the pilot. The 22 districts are not being charged a fee, but they must commit the time to complete surveys on up to 10 processes, or about 15 hours per survey. Mr. Grayson said his organization hopes to raise another $3.4 million in support of the endeavor. After the pilot year, the center hopes to make the collaborative self-sufficient through a combination of subscriptions to the database, membership, licenses, and fees for services.

Founded in 1977, the APQC is a member-based nonprofit serving about 500 organizations worldwide, mostly in the corporate sector. It works with member organizations to identify best practices, discover effective methods for improvement, and disseminate that knowledge both within and across organizations.

Participating school districts are: Aldine, Brazosport, Carrollton-Farmers Branch, Galena Park, Galveston, and Houston, in Texas; Anne Arundel and Montgomery counties, in Maryland; Boston, in Massachusetts; Broward County, Miami-Dade County, and Pinellas County, in Florida; Clark County, in Nevada; Cobb and Gwinnett counties, in Georgia; Fairfax County, in Virginia; Lake Washington, in Washington state; Long Beach, Los Angeles, and Santa Cruz County, in California; Pittsburgh, in Pennsylvania; and Wake County, in North Carolina.

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A version of this article appeared in the March 02, 2005 edition of Education Week as Pilot Project Will Enable Districts to Compare Effectiveness

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