Increasing Educational Productivity

Innovative Approaches & Best Practices

Expectations for students and school systems continue to rise while many states face the toughest financial challenges of recent history. These dual realities mean that policy makers and practitioners must do more with the resources they have during these difficult budget times. Though this “new normal” is certainly a steep challenge, it is one that presents opportunities for states, districts, and schools to innovate, increase efficiency and effectiveness, and accelerate reform.

Increasing educational productivity by doing more with less will not be easy. It will mean graduating a significantly greater number of students—with higher levels of mastery and expertise—at a lower cost per outcome. This will require leaders at every level—from the classroom to the statehouse—to work together to rethink the policies, processes, tools, business models, and funding structures that have been ingrained in our education system for decades.

In March, to help states meet the challenge of doing more with less and to protect public schools from counterproductive cutbacks, Education Secretary Arne Duncan released promising practices on the effective, efficient, and responsible use of resources in tight budget times. Building off of this work, the Office of Innovation and Improvement has compiled additional information to help schools, districts, and states increase educational productivity. [1]

This information has been pulled from a variety of resources, in particular the work of leading thinkers in the field. The information assembled is not intended to represent a comprehensive list of efforts. Instead, it is a collection of ideas and actions from different places and serves as a starting point for additional investigation into the methods being pursued and implemented across the country. To further this work, we would like leaders to share with us the strategies and practices in place to help increase educational productivity. Broadening the dialogue around successful steps to achieve more with less is a critical component of this national conversation.

The information compiled here is organized into 10 reform categories, each aligned with various strategies, practices, or approaches that seek to increase productivity by:

  • Improving outcomes while maintaining current costs;
  • Maintaining current outcomes while lowering costs; or
  • Both improving outcomes and lowering costs.

These strategies seek to invest in what works, make better use of technology, reduce mandates that hinder productivity, pay and manage for results, take advantage of existing opportunities, and make short-term investments for long-term results. Guiding these strategies are two underlying principles: putting student learning first and protecting the neediest children and communities. While some of these strategies will have a greater impact on budgets and spending than others, each nonetheless represents a potential opportunity to contribute to improved productivity at the school, district or state level.

Productivity Categories:

Improving Student Achievement

  1. Competency-based learning or personalized learning
  2. Use of technology in teaching and learning
  3. New and alternative sources of student support and funding
  4. Better use of community resources

Improving Processes, Systems, and Resource Allocations

  1. Process improvements
  2. Pay and manage for results
  3. Flexibility to ease requirements and mandates

Improving Human Capital

  1. Organization of the teaching workforce
  2. Teacher professional and career development
  3. Teacher compensation 

Resources on Framing Educational Productivity 


[1] The U.S. Department of Education does not guarantee the accuracy, timeliness, or completeness of this information. Further, the inclusion of the particular examples does not reflect their importance or success, not are they intended to endorse any particular approaches discussed, views expressed, or products or services offered, but we are hopeful that this information will still be helpful to you. We encourage you to consider other approaches that might address the matters discussed in this document.

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