Right sizing hasn’t often been applied to public education. In the GDP formula, increasing G increases GDP, and growth is good. Taxpayers are the only ones with the incentive to put on the brakes. And why would they? Lawyers have created a cottage industry suing school districts with taxing complaints, but these are small numbers compared with school revenues. Parents' top priority after safety is education, and parents make major life decisions based on schools.
So why right size a school?
Right sizing needs to be a priority for at least two reasons. First, right sizing requires schools to clarify goals. Second, right sizing means maximizing productivity. Traditional schools do neither well.
1. Most schools have a deceivingly singular-sounding goal – usually including “increasing student achievement.” But what does that mean? Local school investments are rarely aligned to the goal, and even a casual walk-through a school makes it clear that schools are usually built for the adults in them more than increasing student achievement.
School leaders in fact target a long list of goals for students: college, career, salary, creativity, logic, literacy, culture, socialization, values, mental health, sports, community. This hodgepodge of goals drives most curricular, programmatic and personnel decisions. Ever-changing goals means ever-changing priorities. Priorities shift based on the complaints of the loudest interest groups.
The first step in right sizing is agreeing on a goal. This doesn’t happen well at the local level. Listening national leaders is even more vacuous.
2. Productivity defines the right size of any organization. How does a community know if its schools’ employees are productive? In the private sector, employees target key performance indicators, usually tied to revenue. Traditional public schools rely on often-contradictory proxy metrics to measure productivity. Currently, some of the most popular ones include ratios related to college entrance test scores, staffing efficiencies, satisfaction survey rates, advanced course enrollment rates and costs per pupil. These goals often contradict. Increasing the number of students in advanced courses sounds great; but what if this results in increasing failure rates for those students? Productivity in public schools is highly-politicized because goals are unclear. Even the most well meaning locally elected officials usually have no idea what success looks like other than for their child. Knowing target ratios that include costs is even more foreign.
Creating the most effective and efficient school possible is the goal. Making right sizing a priority means making measurable improvements in schools.