Productivity: Redesign and Transform

Goal: Our education system at all levels will redesign processes and structures to take advantage of the power of technology to improve learning outcomes while making more efficient use of time, money, and staff.

To reach the president's goal of regaining global leadership in college graduation rates by 2020, the United States must increase the percentage of citizens holding college degrees from the current level of just under 40 percent to 60 percent. That is a sizable increase and, considering that college graduation rates in our country have held steady for more than three decades (OECD 2009a), a sizable challenge.

Add to this challenge the projections of most states and the federal government of reduced revenues for the foreseeable future, and it is clear that we will not reach this goal simply by spending more money on education.

In fact, over the last 30 years, the United States has increased its real dollar K–12 education spending per student by more than 70 percent without a commensurate improvement in outcomes (National Center for Education Statistics 2005; 2008). In higher education, tuition costs are on the rise, yet just 21 percent of the increased revenue goes to instruction (Vedder 2004) and spending changes have not resulted in higher degree completion rates (Bound, Lovenheim, and Turner 2009).

More money for education is important, but we must spend education dollars wisely, starting with being clear about the learning outcomes we expect from the investments we make. We also must leverage technology to plan, manage, monitor, and report spending so that we can provide decision-makers with a reliable, accurate, and complete view of the financial performance of our education system at all levels. Such visibility is essential to improving productivity and accountability.

At the same time, we must make a commitment to continuous improvement by continually measuring and improving the productivity of our education system to meet our goals for educational attainment within the budgets we can afford.

The Productivity Paradox

Improving productivity is a daily focus of most American organizations in all sectors—both for-profit and nonprofit—and especially in tight economic times. Education has not, however, incorporated many of the practices other sectors regularly use to improve outcomes and manage costs, nor has it leveraged technology to enable or enhance them. We can learn much from the experience in other sectors.

During the 1970s and 1980s, economists puzzled over what they called the "productivity paradox." Businesses were rapidly deploying technology in the belief that it would help them perform better and more efficiently. But when economists looked for hard data to demonstrate that U.S. economic output per unit of investment was increasing, they turned up empty-handed.

In the 1990s, economists were finally able to find evidence of substantial improvements in productivity related to technology (Brynjolfsson and Hitt 1998). They discovered that when businesses first introduced technology, they tended to use it to automate existing processes and procedures, without regard to whether they might be flawed or inefficient. Such uses may have had some benefit in terms of accuracy or speed, but the cost and complexity of acquiring technology, implementing it, and training staff in its use far outweighed its contributions.

Later still, in the 2000s, economists concluded that dramatic improvements in productivity were the result of structural innovations and a thorough redesign of business processes made possible by technology (Black and Lynch 2003).

What education can learn from the experience of business is that we need to make the fundamental structural changes that technology enables if we are to see dramatic improvements in productivity. As we do so, we should recognize that although the fundamental purpose of our public education system is the same, the roles and processes of schools, educators, and the system itself should change to reflect the times we live in and our goals as a world leader. Such rethinking applies not just to learning, assessment, and teaching processes, but also to the infrastructure and operational and financial sides of running schools and school systems.

A Call to Action for Education Leaders

Redesigning education in America is a complex challenge that will require all 50 states, the thousands of districts and schools across the country, the federal government, and other education stakeholders in the public and private sector to come together to design and implement solutions. It is a challenge for education leaders and policymakers, technologists in both the public and private sectors, and for educators throughout our education system.

An appropriate role for the Department of Education is to identify strategies for improving productivity in education and to work with states and districts to increase their capacity to implement them. This will include encouraging states and local education agencies to make changes to practices, policies, and regulations that prevent or inhibit education from using technology to improve productivity.

In addition, when learning is powered by technology, the role of education leadership changes dramatically. Having leaders throughout our education system who understand the role of technology is essential. For example, every state should assign responsibility for educational technology to a senior-level individual who can provide a new kind of education leadership by ensuring that planning for educational and information technology is connected with the core functions of curriculum and instruction, assessment, professional learning, and administration. A senior-level leader equally knowledgeable about education and technology also would ensure that educational technology purchases are efficient and effective, both in terms of what is purchased and how purchases are made. (For an example of one state that has learned a new way to lead, see sidebar.)

Leading for Learning

Taking advantage of technology to make transformative changes in learning opportunities requires leadership. The number of aspects of the existing system that need to change make the effort both daunting and complex, but examples of leaders working together to address this challenge are starting to emerge.

In Michigan, Mike Flanagan, the state superintendent of instruction, was motivated to take on educational transformation by the high dropout rate in many school districts. Superintendent Flanagan issued a Dropout Challenge, calling on districts to lower the number of students who leave school without a diploma. One of the first steps in the Dropout Challenge work was to get accurate data on the number of students who had started ninth grade who actually graduated four years later so that Michigan districts knew where they really stood with respect to dropouts. This understanding was hard to come by with the old practice of merely looking at the number of students starting 12th grade who do not earn a diploma.

Next, Superintendent Flanagan reasoned that schools need to measure and use indicators known to predict dropping out—such as poor attendance, earning few course credits in ninth and 10th grades, and failure to progress to the next grade. These data were not part of the state's data system, and many districts did not keep track of them. Michigan used $11.5 million in funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to fund a Regional Data Initiatives grant program to make these kinds of data available at the school level. More than 97 percent of the states' school districts signed on to the initiative. In addition, an online professional learning community is focusing on best practices in using data for dropout prevention.

The state legislature supported Superintendent Flanagan's Dropout Challenge initiative by raising the age at which a student can leave school without parental permission from 16 to 18. To provide alternatives for students who have dropped out or who are considering doing so, Michigan also has begun expanding alternative programs, including options for online instruction. Superintendent Flanagan has given waivers to the state's seat time requirements to 21 programs, some of which allow students to take all their instruction online.

Embracing Continuous Improvement

The underlying principle of continuous improvement is that we are unlikely to improve productivity until we can define and measure it. This starts with identifying what we seek in learning outcomes. It also requires getting a handle on the costs associated with components of our education system and with individual resources and activities so that the ratio of outcomes to costs can be tracked over time.

This plan devotes considerable space to the learning outcomes we seek and measuring what matters in learning. It also considers pragmatic such outcomes as successful high school graduation, readiness for postsecondary education, and college degree completion.

As we establish new and more complete measures of learning and pragmatic outcomes, however, quality matters. A student who successfully completes algebra in one high school may learn more, be better prepared for college-level mathematics, and be more inspired to pursue a career in mathematics than a student who successfully completes algebra at another high school. Even if we cannot accurately measure or easily remedy these qualitative differences, we must consider them as we determine what to measure for continuous improvement.

Measuring and Managing Costs

The United States spends an average of about $10,000 per student per year on K–12 education. But for too many education leaders and decision-makers, visibility into the costs of specific services our education system delivers to students is nonexistent. This is because education accounting and reporting typically are done across large programs and broad categories, such as instruction or instructional support. These accounting practices are insufficient for tracking, benchmarking, and analyzing the costs of various services individually or compared with one another—all of which are essential to making decisions that lead to better outcomes and productivity.

A better approach to accounting for these purposes is cost accounting, which focuses on recording, tracking, and reporting costs associated with specific functions or services. Cost accounting can provide a complete picture of actual costs today and also serve as the basis for projecting costs in the future. As part of a commitment to continuous improvement, states and districts should adopt common cost-accounting standards for benchmarking and analyzing costs.

Using Data in Decision Making

An essential component of continuous improvement is making decisions based on data, which will require fundamental changes in how we collect and use data and in the processes we currently use for decision making.

For many years, school districts have been developing and using multiple data systems for different purposes. As a result, many districts today have separate systems for finance data, personnel data, required accountability information for special education students, school lunch data, enrollment and attendance, and assessment data. Historically, linking data from these different systems has been cumbersome or impossible.

Advances in technology and a recent policy emphasis on using data in decision making have resulted in much improved data in many districts. Still, although almost all districts have electronic access to such data as student demographics, attendance, grades, and test scores, less than half have the ability to combine data from different types of systems so as to link student outcome data to data about specific instructional programs, teacher characteristics, or school finances (Gray and Lewis 2009; U.S. Department of Education Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development 2010). Combining data from these different types of systems will require at a minimum the development and use of content, student-learning, and financial data interoperability standards. Over time, it will require designing, developing, and adopting integrated systems for collecting the complex forms of data we need and for deriving meaningful interpretations relative to what we want to measure.

In addition to fragmented data systems, the silos created by funding programs, tradition, and interest groups present a major barrier to improving the productivity of our education system. When those responsible for a given function are isolated from others within the same organization, they tend to develop practices and procedures that are optimal only from their own perspective. In addition, decisions made in one portion of an organization may create tension with decisions made in another.

To ensure better alignment in decision making, states and districts should develop process-redesign teams that cut across functions and follow the process rather than looking at work flow only within a given office (CoSN 2009). In addition, federal and state policies and regulations should be reviewed to identify and remove barriers to more efficient use of resources within schools and districts. Policies also should be reviewed to remove practices that keep technology functions isolated from the functions of teaching, learning, and assessment. These include separate funding streams and restrictions on the use of funds that reinforce the isolation of the educational technology function. (See sidebar on using data to drive improvement.)

Using Data to Drive Improvement

During the 1980s and 1990s, Maryland's Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) saw dramatic changes in their student bodies, with increasing numbers of students living in poverty and coming from immigrant families or historically underserved ethnic groups. When Jerry Weast became superintendent in 1999, he initiated an Integrated Quality Management System (IQMS) as a strategy for identifying and closing achievement gaps. IQMS combines student information, such as enrollment, attendance, grades, scheduling, and test performance, with data on professional development, finances, and human resources. An Instructional Management System (IMS) was added to give teachers online access to curriculum resources, student performance on formative and summative assessments and various screenings, and curriculum guides and lesson plans.

A joint venture with a technology developer produced software for a handheld computing device that allowed teachers to do individual assessments of a student's literacy skills and capture the data for the student's electronic file. The electronic records enabled reading coaches to look at data for individual students, identify students who were not making the expected progress, and seek out the relevant teachers to offer suggestions and support. The result was that district reading achievement rose overall, with especially large gains for African-American, Hispanic, and low-income students (Childress, Doyle, and Thomas 2009).

More recently, MCPS has implemented a collaborative data-focused process it calls M-STAT. Community superintendents come together and use data to examine such issues as differential advanced course enrollment rates within their high schools. The district had long recognized the lower participation of Hispanic and African-American students in advanced courses and had switched from using teacher recommendations to using PSAT scores and other objective indicators to counsel students into honors and AP courses. The M-STAT process revealed that Hispanic and African-American students were less likely than other students to participate in the PSAT. The community superintendents started working with their principals on such actions as meeting with African-American and Hispanic parents to talk about the importance of the PSAT and making the examination more enjoyable by providing snacks. By 2008, 88 percent of African-American and 84 percent of Hispanic students in MCPS took the PSAT; more than 60 percent of African-American and Hispanic high school students were enrolled in at least one honors or AP course (Childress, Doyle, and Thomas 2009).

Employing Iterative Design and Development

As we embrace continuous improvement, we must respect the complexity of our system and invest the effort needed to evaluate educational practices in different contexts over time. Rather than expecting to find an ideal turnkey solution, states and districts should define, test, and refine new ideas on a trial basis and measure their implementation effectiveness and results. New educational practices should be adopted with the expectation that there will be multiple cycles of implementation and refinement. States and districts also should partner with each other on process redesign pilots and programs to leverage resources and scale up the best ideas.

Moving to Useful Metrics on the Use of Technology

Current data on the use of educational and information technology in our system consist of records of purchases and numbers of computers and Internet connections. Very little information on how technology is actually used to support teaching, learning, and assessment is collected and communicated systematically. Only by shifting our focus to collecting data on how and when technology is used will we be able determine the difference it makes and use that knowledge to improve learning outcomes and the productivity of our education system.

Employing technology on the scale proposed in this plan is new to education. Findings from evaluations of technological adaptations demonstrate a range of effectiveness, from low to high, depending on not just the specific technology but also the way in which it is used, the training associated with it, and the effort applied to on-going refinement and further development (Campuzano et al. 2009; Kulik 2003). The lessons learned from previous efforts emphasize that the introduction of new or adapted technologies must be accompanied, at a minimum, by a deliberate, often repeating cycle of implementation, observation and assessment, and improvement. To truly build a knowledge base and ensure that we are using our scarce resources wisely, formative research, which might often be quite local in focus, should be accompanied by a more broadly coordinated program of summative research that measures both effectiveness and cost-effectiveness.

Reorganizing Teaching and Learning

We have long known that whatever it is we are trying to teach, whether drawing or quantum mechanics, individual students will vary in how much they know already, how they like to learn, and the speed at which they can learn more. In a time when we have the capability to support learning 24/7 and personalize the way a student interacts with digital content, it no longer makes sense to give every 13-year-old the same set of 45-minute American history lessons.

How much could we save if students who are ready and interested in moving ahead in their studies were allowed to do so instead of marking time until their classmates catch up? How much more efficient would our system be if students who need extra support in reading comprehension strategies had that support at their fingertips whenever they were reading in the content areas? How many more students would pass their courses and not have to repeat them? These are essential questions we must ask as we redesign education, and answering them will require rethinking basic assumptions about how our education system meets our goals.

One of the most basic assumptions in our education system is time-based or seat-time measures of educational attainment. These measures were created in the late 1800s and early 1900s to smooth transitions from K–12 into higher education by translating high school work to college admissions offices (Shedd 2003) and made their way into higher education when institutions began moving away from standardized curricula.

Time-based measures were appropriate in their day, but they are not now when we know more about how people learn and we have access to technology that can help us accommodate different styles and paces of learning. As we move to online learning and learning that combines classroom and online learning, time-based measures will increasingly frustrate our attempts to provide learning experiences that lead to achievement and the pursuit of postsecondary education that our modern world requires.

Another basic assumption is the inflexible way we organize students into age-determined groups, structure separate academic disciplines, organize learning into classes of roughly equal size with all the students in a particular class receiving the same content at the same pace, and keep these groups in place all year. (See sidebar on making a school "not school.")

Making a School "Not School"

The kind of radical rethinking of the nature of schooling that technology makes possible is illustrated by Westwood Cyber School, located just outside Detroit, Mich. Launched two years ago as a dropout recovery and prevention program, the Cyber School is the first location in the country to implement a British model known as the "Not School."

Like its British prototype, Westwood Cyber does not have traditional classrooms, academic departments, courses, or tests. Students use the Internet to work almost entirely from home, reporting to the brick-and-mortar school building for just two hours a week to check in with school staff. The rest of the time they work interactively with school personnel and the school's learning management system. Learning activities emphasize project-based learning and incorporate multiple subject areas. Student projects result in an individualized portfolio of creative work that is tailored to each student's interests. Experts (state-certified teachers) grade students' portfolio work products using grading rubrics closely tied to state learning standards to ensure that students achieve mastery of required material within their individualized learning programs.

The Westwood school district, which had been losing enrollment, has increased enrollment by 33 percent since starting the Cyber School. The school itself has retained 90 percent of its students.

The last decade has seen the emergence of some radically redesigned schools, demonstrating the range of possibilities for structuring education. For example, organizing education around the demonstration of competence rather than seat time opens up a wide range of possibilities. The first school district to win the Baldrige National Quality Award, Chugach School District in Alaska, achieved remarkable gains in student outcomes after mobilizing its community to identify the competencies it wanted to see in high school graduates and shifting to a performance-based system in which diplomas were awarded on the basis of performance on the district's assessment of those competencies (NIST, Baldrige 2001). Since that time, 15 districts and 200 schools have signed up to replicate this systemic reform (Re-Inventing Schools Coalition n.d.).

New Hampshire is now moving to a competency-based approach to secondary education across the entire state. The state's governor asked his school board to come up with the education reforms needed to meet the goal of having zero dropouts by 2012. The board focused on the issue of unproductive requirements that impede student progress: Why, for example, can a student earn a high school credit by attending gym class but not for the hours spent practicing and performing as part of a gymnastics team? Subsequently, the board changed state regulations to give students the option of earning credit for graduation by demonstrating their competence with respect to the standards stipulated by their school districts. New Hampshire districts are still determining how to implement this system, including its implications for funding, teacher training, and assessment practices. But a new high school position—the extended learning opportunity coordinator—is emerging in schools across the state.

Technology can facilitate implementation of such a competency-based approach to education. At the Young Women's Leadership Charter School in Chicago, teachers use a specially designed database to keep track of the proficiency ratings each student has earned. Proficiency ratings are updated daily so that everyone—the student, the parent, teachers, and the school leader—knows exactly where each student stands relative to the competencies required for graduation. (See sidebar on competency-based assessment at the Young Women's Leadership Charter School.)

Competency-based Assessment at Young Women's Leadership Charter School

In 2002, the Young Women's Leadership Charter School (YWLCS) in Chicago instituted a radically new system for awarding course credit that is helping its students master course material, graduate from high school, and enroll in higher education at rates far exceeding those of demographically similar schools. A nonselective public school that serves primarily low-income minority students, YWLCS graduated 79 percent of its students in 2005, a figure 1.5 times higher than Chicago Public Schools' overall 52 percent graduation rate that year.

School leaders have implemented a system for student assessment that moves away from tying credit to seat time. Instead, the school recognizes the continuous nature of student learning by awarding credit for specific competencies demonstrated at any point in a student's high school career.

With a commercial partner, the school developed a data system designed specifically for use in a competency-based program. Throughout the year, YWLCS teachers evaluate student work and go to the system to assign each student a proficiency rating of High Performance, Proficient, or Not Yet Proficient for each key learning objective associated with the class. Students earn credit for classes in which they demonstrate proficiency on at least 70 percent of academic course outcomes.

The data system uses the proficiency data that teachers enter to create a dynamic record of each student's progress that is updated daily and is accessible to teachers, parents, and students. Teachers can use the data system to target their instruction and remediation strategies for current students. In addition, students can use their own data to identify the courses they are not yet proficient in and work with their teachers to develop a plan for mastering unmet standards.

If students demonstrate a competency after the end of the year has passed, future teachers can update students' proficiency ratings in the data system to reflect what they have learned since the conclusion of a course.

YWLCS compiles information from the data system into formal reports of student achievement, converting proficiency ratings into grade point average equivalents, to ensure that its graduates' competencies are recognized by colleges, sources of financial aid, and other external parties. This competency-based approach is producing results: 90 percent of YWLCS students who graduated in 2009 were accepted to college or another postsecondary option.

Another way technology can support the reorganization of teaching and learning is by enabling more flexible student-centered scheduling. At the Huyton Arts and Sports Centre for Learning, a secondary school in the United Kingdom, for example, learning activities are selected and scheduled to fit individual students' needs rather than traditional academic periods and lockstep curriculum pacing.

Extending Learning Time

Another strategy for rethinking how teaching and learning are organized involves extending the learning day, week, or year. American students spend significantly less time in the classroom than students in many other countries, and students—especially low-income students—show a marked drop in their mathematics and reading proficiencies over the summer break. President Obama and other policymakers have questioned the logic of maintaining a three-month summer hiatus originally instituted so that students could provide needed farm labor during the critical summer months.

Since 2006, Massachusetts has had an Expanded Learning Time Initiative under which schools in lower income districts are adding 300 or more instructional hours to the school year. A number of charter school networks share the belief that extending learning time is key to preparing students from low-income communities for college, and they are instituting longer school days and weeks. Yes Prep schools, for example, run from 7:30 in the morning until 4:30 each day with additional sessions every other Saturday. Yes Prep educators also support extending learning time by giving students their cell phone numbers so that students can call them during the evening to ask questions about homework.

As we seek ways to extend learning time, in addition to considering the amount of time students spend in school, we should also look at whether we can provide engaging and powerful learning experiences through other means. For example, we know that students' lives outside school are filled with technology that gives them 24/7 mobile access to information and resources and allows them to participate in online social networks and communities where people from all over the world share ideas, collaborate, and learn new things. Our education system should leverage students' interest in technology and the time they currently spend learning informally outside the regular school hours to extend learning time in a way that motivates them even more.

One way to do that is through online learning, which allows schools to extend learning time by providing students with learning on demand anytime and anywhere, dramatically expanding educational opportunities without increasing time spent in school. With online learning, students can gain access to resources regardless of time of day, geography, or ability; receive personalized instruction from educators and experts anywhere in the world; and learn at their own pace and in ways tailored to their own styles and interests. Moreover, it enables our education system to leverage the talents and expertise of our best educators by making their knowledge and skills available to many more learners.

In addition, all these benefits can be realized through online learning at considerably less cost than providing students with additional in-person, classroom-based instruction by extending the school day or year.

As schools implement online learning, they should ensure that students' learning experiences address the full range of expertise and competencies as reflected in standards and use meaningful assessments of the target competencies. For example, online collaborative environments or virtual worlds can facilitate the participatory nature of learning in addition to providing opportunities for content knowledge. State education agencies can provide leadership and technical assistance in this area, and educators also should look to their peers for best practices.

Removing Barriers to Secondary and Postsecondary Graduation

The United States has a long way to go if we are to see every student complete at least a year of higher education or postsecondary career training. There is no way to achieve this target unless we can dramatically reduce the number of students who leave high school without getting a diploma and/or who are unprepared for postsecondary education. A complex set of personal and academic factors underlie students' decision to leave school or to disengage from learning, and no one strategy will prevent every separation from the education system.

Many students report that dropping out of school is a gradual process of disengagement that can be reversed with more relevant learning experiences and social and emotional interactions at school (Bridgeland, Dilulio, and Morrison 2006; Rumberger and Lim 2008). Technology-based programs and resources, including online learning, tutoring and mentoring, and social networks and participatory communities within and across educational institutions, can provide both. They also can give students guidance and information about their own learning progress and opportunities for the future. Specifically, students need to know what is expected of them as they move from middle school to high school and from high school to postsecondary education. Other practices supported with technology also can help address the problem.

First, there is the issue of identifying students' difficulties early and providing extra support where needed. Support should start as early as possible, before children enter school, and should become intensified for those students who need it as they move through school. From the point of high school entry, every student could have a learning dashboard indicating whether or not his or her course enrollments and performance are on track for high school graduation and qualification for college entry. Such a system could make "smart" suggestions about options for fulfilling requirements, including the possibility of earning credits for courses taken during the summer, in alternative programs, at community colleges, or online.

When prevention fails and students quit attending school for a period of time, we must have multiple options for reconnecting them with the education system. Such students often become discouraged about their prospects for being able to earn the credits needed for graduation or have an aversion to returning to a school where they will be in classes with younger students rather than their original cohort. (See sidebar on adult learning resources in the Learning chapter.)

Increasingly, secondary students are taking courses online to earn credit for courses they initially failed or missed because they were not attending school. Such courses can be taken under any number of arrangements—independently in the evening, during summer sessions, in a night school, or during the school day with a member of the teaching staff, who provides encouragement and support as the student works with the online material.

In Walled Lake Consolidated School District in Michigan, for example, students can recover course credits through online summer school courses. The summer credit recovery program has worked so well that the district is developing a plan that will allow students to stay in high school while working by attending class in their brick-and-mortar school for four hours a day and taking their other two required courses online at their convenience. (See sidebar on expanding learning opportunities through blended learning.)

Expanding Opportunities Through Blended Learning

Walled Lake Consolidated School District in Oakland County, Mich., is turning to online learning to offer students a wider range of educational opportunities very cost-effectively.

In 2008, Walled Lake began offering its summer school credit recovery classes online. The district enlisted the help of its teachers to review various offerings and selected an online learning provider whose curriculum was comparable to that of district courses. Walled Lake enrolled 300 students in these online courses and also provided face-to-face meetings with district teachers twice a week to help students with course material and track their progress. This blended strategy lowered the district's costs of providing each summer school course by nearly 50 percent, reducing the cost per student from $194 to about $102.

Inspired by this success and students' positive experiences with online learning, Walled Lake plans to begin allowing high school students to take both online and classroom-based courses during the school year. Students will continue to attend school at least four hours per day, but they may elect to enroll in up to two online courses each semester. As with its summer school courses, Walled Lake students' online learning experiences will be supported by biweekly interactions with local teachers. This blended learning arrangement will accommodate students' diverse learning styles and desire to work before or after school in ways that were not possible with full-time conventional instruction.

Walled Lake is also partnering with a local community college to make postsecondary education a reality for more of its high school students. Under the experimental agreement, 11th- and 12th-grade students may choose to enroll concurrently in high school and college, completing some college coursework online and some on the college campus, facilitated by the flexible scheduling system described above. The district will continue to claim full-time-equivalent funding for each student and will pay students' tuition for courses taken at the community college during their high school years. This arrangement will enable Walled Lake students to complete an associate degree just one year after high school graduation.

Another example is provided by Tarrant High School in Alabama. Tarrant students are taking advantage of ACCESS (Alabama Connecting Classrooms, Educators, & Students Statewide), the state's online learning program, to take courses before or after school or in the summer in order to recover credits for courses they failed or to graduate earlier. The school's principal believes that ACCESS has been a significant factor in raising her school's graduation rate from 66 percent in 2006 to 80 percent in 2008. Research conducted in the state of Washington has concluded similarly that online credit recovery can help increase graduation rates (Baker et al. 2006).

Reaching Our Goal

5.0 Productivity:

Our education system at all levels will redesign processes and structures to take advantage of the power of technology to improve learning outcomes while making more efficient use of time, money, and staff.

To meet this goal, we recommend the following actions:

5.1 Develop and adopt a common definition of productivity in education and more relevant and meaningful measures of outcomes, along with improved policies and technologies for managing costs, including those for procurement.

Education has not incorporated many of the practices other sectors regularly use to measure outcomes, manage costs, and improve productivity, a number of which are enabled or enhanced by technology. As other sectors have learned, we are unlikely to improve outcomes and productivity until we define and start measuring them. This starts with identifying what we seek to measure. It also requires identifying costs associated with components of our education system and with individual resources and activities so that the ratio of outcomes to costs can be tracked over time.

5.2 Rethink basic assumptions in our education system that inhibit leveraging technology to improve learning, starting with our current practice of organizing student and educator learning around seat time instead of the demonstration of competencies.

To realize the full potential of technology for improving performance and increasing productivity, we must remove the process and structural barriers to broad adoption. The education system must work to identify and rethink basic assumptions of the education system. Some of these include measurement of educational attainment through seat time, organization of students into age-determined groups, the structure of separate academic disciplines, the organization of learning into classes of roughly equal size, and the use of time blocks.

5.3 Develop useful metrics for the educational use of technology in states and districts.

Current data on the use of educational and information technology in our system consist of records of purchases and numbers of computers and Internet connections. Very little information on how technology is actually used to support teaching, learning, and assessment is collected and communicated systematically. Only by shifting our focus to collecting data on how and when technology is used will we be able to determine the difference it makes and use that knowledge to improve outcomes and the productivity of our education system.

5.4 Design, implement, and evaluate technology-powered programs and interventions to ensure that students progress seamlessly through our P–16 education system and emerge prepared for college and careers.

The United States has a long way to go if we are to see every student complete at least a year of higher education or postsecondary career training. Achieving this target will require dramatically reducing the number of students who leave high school without getting a diploma and/or who are unprepared for postsecondary education. A complex set of personal and academic factors underlie students' decision to leave school or to disengage from learning, and no one strategy will prevent every separation from the education system. Collaboration between P–12 and higher education institutions and practices supported with technology are crucial to addressing the problem.