Elihyu Goldratt's fine book The Goal
provides a highly readable
explanation of industrial quality improvement in a factory and the thinking
processes needed to solve business problems. Applying these methods to
education yields some insight as to changes that might improve the process.
Goldratt asks the factory manager to define the Goal. In the factory it
turns out that automation, cost control and even productivity are not the goals, instead
the factory is expected to "Make Money."
School authorities need to determine what is their goal? Higher
test scores? (That sounds like cost accounting to me.) I think the
answer is the same for the schools as it is for the factory. "Make
Money." How does a school make money?
Goldratt offers three definitions that help a system actually make money:
- "Throughput is the rate at which the system makes money through sales" and
- "Inventory is all the money the system has invested in purchasing things that it intends to sell", and
- "Operational expense is all the money the system spends turning inventory into throughput."
Then he says that to make the most money you need to maximize #1, while
minimizing #2 and #3.
Using these concepts his protagonist, Alex Rogo, makes the plant
profitable and saves the day. Later he fends off a corporate takeover
and his disciples save a university business program. Not a bad day's
work. It is an exciting business story and a good example of how you can
turn a dry technical topic into a compelling story
But how does this apply to K-12 education?
Throughput is something like graduations, or maybe it's
more like scholarship money earned by graduates plus alumni and family
contributions, or maybe it's a reduction in the number of cells
needed in local jails. Or maybe it's best measured by the average income
of graduates ten years after graduation. People are willing to pay
for positive outcomes. Ultimately throughput is reflected in
the amount of cash
the school system can liberate from the local politicians or other
sources to continue
operations. It's kind of funny how it always boils down to money. We'll return to this theme after reviewing inventory and operational efficiency.
Inventory in the above definition applies to the students themselves
and the cumulative investment made in educating each one. In
inventory is BAD. If inventory stacks up awaiting a process, it is the
sign of a bottleneck and represents a prime opportunity for
improvement. You want
to move inventory through the system as quickly as possible.
Eliminating the bottlenecks provides the first magnitude of quality
improvement. School bottlenecks include delays like summer vacations, ineffective
curricula and students who fail to progress (processes and materials that produce failing results). Lousy teachers can also
factor into the problem but more often than not it is the process that's
at fault much more so than the person.
Operational expense is how much it costs to process inventory into
a sale. You need to minimize it but you need to produce products with
sufficient quality that they can sell in the competitive marketplace.
Quality is the way you sell the product. If your products sell, you can
make money (the 2005 New Orleans Public Schools couldn't give their
product away). Schools can look for waste and cut costs but cuts must
measured in terms of the goal. If you save a buck but make your
students miserable you may not be "Making Money."
The Industrial Revolution marked a huge reduction in processing costs.
Craft work was replaced by factory automation. Parts were standardized
and interchangeable. Energy from fossil fuels multiplied manpower
effectiveness. A similar multiplier has not been applied to the
educational process. Teachers, like the master craftsmen of old, are expected to do everything necessary to produce the product. They plan the syllabus, prepare the lectures and workshops, design the tests, grade the work and even take attendance. Teaching appears to be one of the areas most open to improvement.
Schools have to produce productive citizens or they are not
selling. A product that ends up on welfare or in jail is not a sale.
These are like rejected products that end up in a scrap heap or a finished goods
warehouse without a customer willing to buy. They absolutely kill the
profits because so much is invested in each one and there is no output.
A student who goes on to college, becomes a Nobel laureate and
contributes his award and part of his family fortune to the school is a SALE. Measuring what happens
to graduates after they leave the campus is an important measure of
Few public schools have mastered this concept. Benjamin Franklin Senior
High School in New Orleans is the best example I've seen in a public
school. True, it's a college prep magnet school with strict admissions
and retention requirements, but that does not minimize its achievement.
A public school that can rally staff and alumni to provide funding and
even labor to
reopen after a storm that flooded its campus is "making money." To have
this happen at a time when the entire district was a shambles and the
school needed to be reopened as a charter school was amazing. Finally
to realize that students displaced around the country wanted to return
because the educational product at Franklin was exceptional is what we
need at all schools.
McDonough #35 High School is another public example. Jesuit High School
Orleans is private but engenders the same or even greater loyalty than
Franklin by engaging entire families as well as the students in their
quest for education. Every private university in America has mastered
So have we discovered the goal of an educational institution? Is it to raise money for operations and expansion from public and private sources by providing the experiences that help children grow into productive citizens who thrive in the community? What kind of education? College prep, vo-tech, physical education, medical technology, welding, creative arts, cooking, carpentry, computer science? Yes, yes and yes.