New Orleans: K-12 Primary and Secondary Education: People: Lingering Problems: Infrastructure: Education: K-12 Analysis: 2007 Test Results: New Orleans Public Schools (NOPS): Post Katrina Public Schools: 2006-07 School Year:

The Goal

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:
  1. "Throughput is the rate at which the system makes money through sales" and
  2. "Inventory is all the money the system has invested in purchasing things that it intends to sell", and
  3. "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 manufacturing, 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 be 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 sales.

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 in New 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 this concept.

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.

  • What is a school for? : Try this answer. It was proposed by an educator, Daniel Greenberg, in a 2001 speech about his school.

    " A school is a place where children can develop to be effective adults. It’s :: Continue reading...

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    Created : 6/26/2006 4:14:19 PM Updated: 8/27/2012 9:15:42 AM

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