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.

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 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

5. Process improvements
6. Pay and manage for results
7. Flexibility to ease requirements and mandates

Improving Human Capital

8. Organization of the teaching workforce
9. Teacher professional and career development
10. Teacher compensation

Resources on Framing Educational Productivity

Cross-posted from the OII homepage.


  1. To say that students should pass the high school exit exam before they graduate from high school, should be dismissed. You have children that have went their whole 12 years of school and only to be told that because they missed the state test by 1 point, that they will not graduate. Now what would one think that this would do to that child, I understand testing is important, but come on, they must know something if they only missed the test by 1 point, and to take their dream away for one point is just wrong. The state needs to go back to the table and think of another way, because so many students are missing the chance of a lifetime to graduate with their senior class. And for them to wait until April to give the last test, knowing graduation is in May, only to be told, when your scores come back in June, you will be given a your diploma, will the class be there, will they get the graduation ceremony, NO! why not just let these students walk with their class, receive a cerfificate, and when their scores come back and they passed, give them their diploma. This is wrong, and the State Department of Education, really needs to do something about this matter. Things like this makes a child want to give up, knowing they’ve come that far only to not graduate for a point…I really feel that if a student miss the test limit by 10 or less points then they should be allowed to graduate.

  2. I would first like to commend the teachers. I have the highest respect for those that help make us who we are. I don’t believe that they are ever paid what they are worth. My concern is that because we have made all of these laws about education in the past, we may be afraid to say that maybe we need to get rid of some things or change some things. This year we had many in our school’s senior class who did not graduate because they did not pass the required subject exam. Some of those children had decent grades. My question is; if the teachers have taught them through out the year, why are’nt the children passing the exams? I believe that the exams should grade the teachers and not the students. It should be a tool to increase teacher’s performance. I know of a teacher who have been teaching computer class most of the year. She is an Algebra II teacher. Children should not spend time learning how to take an exam, they should be simply learning the subject area that they are in. PLEASE LET’S GO BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD. Remember also that each state has it’s own unique problem and reasons for successes and failures. Poverty sometimes interferes with the childs ability to have the tools they need for learning. We also miss the point that NOT ALL CHILDREN ARE MEANT TO GO TO COLLEGE. We need plumers, electricians, mechanics, and etc. Children who can not learn Algebra should not feel any less than a child who can. I was in my fourth year of college when I actually learnd the concept of Algebra. There was only one teacher who could explain it to me. Not All Chldren Learn the Same, or at the Same Pace. WE ARE MISSING IT PEOPLE. THE CHILDREN ARE BEING LEFT BEHIND RIGHT AT THE FINISH LINE.

    • Using the exam as an assessment for teachers, instead of students is already in place: NCLB. Please do even the most basic research before forming an opinion. I, myself, have very strong opinions, but keep most quiet, because I do not know the whole story.

      Either way, using the exam to assess teachers is failing, and is being revamped by Mr. Duncan and the president. Hopefully the new system will work out. If not, hopefully it doesn’t take as long to re-do it as the last time.

      As for the specific test, I didn’t realize that there was a specific test, one test that students had to pass to graduate. You may want to take that up with your local school board.

      And it’s not just each state that has its own unique problems and reasons for success and failure. It is each school, each classroom, and each student.

      It may be true that not all children are meant to go to college, but shouldn’t we try? I take offense to that statement. I was one of the students that was “not meant for college”, and was tracked into a vocational education curriculum. Now, I work at a college, with low-income, first generation students through the TRiO program. It’s wonderful. I get to help students everyday to decide whether THEY believe that college is for them, and provide them with support for one way or the other.

      If we start tracking students into specific career paths, how many, that could have been astrophysicists, will end up selling hamburgers? And how many that could have sold hamburgers quite well, would end up without a career?

      That’s the problem. It’s not always one or the other. Not all children are meant for college today. That is true. But, with an improved education, more could do better for themselves, and the country.
      “Not All Chldren [sic] Learn the Same, or at the Same Pace.”
      Ask any teacher. Any one of the teachers you know.
      They’ll tell you that.
      Why ‘fight the system’, when the system is comprised of those who want to help, and don’t have the resources they need, and those who want to help, but are misinformed and ignorant?

  3. School leaders are going to need to turn up their practice of education in order to lead any group to success. Often the responsibility falls solely on the teachers backs. With knowledgeable leadership, only then will our teachers and student be allowed too maximize their teaching and learning potential. Money is not the biggest factor in student achievement, it is the building staff, students, and parents alike. They have to have high goals and a team of cooperative workers to meet those goals. We have to hold parents, students and educators accountable equally.

  4. Parents are most responsible for preparing students ready to learn in school, but never is there any initiatives offering a school program for preparation for the most important vocation of parenting. A one semester course for the 7th and 12th grades to help students ready for preparing the children of the NEXT generation to rudiments of values needed for learning is a suggestion for monumental improvement of education today.

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