APQC: Process management can improve education

Process management can lead to more efficient educators.
Process management can lead to more efficient educators, APQC says.

An ambitious program aims to transform K-12 education outcomes, such as student achievement and smart spending, by focusing on the processes through which schools strive to achieve those outcomes–and it already has led to positive results (and millions of dollars in savings) among participating schools.

The North Star Project, spearheaded by the nonprofit American Productivity and Quality Center (APQC), focuses on process and performance management (PPM) as the driver of improvement.

APQC Chairman C. Jackson Grayson Jr. said he has a “simple but difficult mission–I want to transform the entire education system,” including state and federal governments, higher education, and private schools.

Grayson said there are two fundamental reasons for the “decades-long” stagnation in public K-12 education: There exists an almost total focus on inputs and outcomes, and no focus on processes; and there is a failure to link accountability with improvement through processes.

“Most of the focus of the entire education system has been on … inputs and outcomes–the what and the why,” a recent APQC report states. “The how–the processes–have been almost entirely overlooked.”

“Process is the most fundamental way to go about improvement,” Grayson said, adding that process management is not used in K-12 education today. Outcomes themselves cannot be managed, but the processes use to achieve those outcomes can, he said.

The North Star Project holds that when performance management and process management are not linked, education cannot improve and undergo transformative change.

Grayson likened public education’s predicament to an Achilles heel and said that “education’s singular focus on outcomes, rather than the processes that bring them about” is a critical flaw that has blocked reform.

He attributes this flaw to external pressure and lack of internal capacity. Schools are under constant pressure to deliver improved test scores, higher graduation rates, and better teaching–but unless school leaders pay as much attention to the processes as well as the outcomes, there will be little room for improvement, he said. Additionally, teachers often don’t have enough time or support to bring about this kind of change.

The project describes the processes that participating districts have used, and the success they have realized, for replication and implementation in other districts. It relies on the development and maintenance of a process-outcomes database that will let districts compare their performance against that of other schools and identify areas for improvement.

The North Star Project includes seven components:

• Hubs and Spokes: An implementation model that relies on existing North Star schools to inform, train, and coach other schools.

• Process and Outcome Measurement Database: A database of education processes and outcomes collected from districts, searchable for linkages of processes and outcomes, gaps, and best practices.

Laura Ascione

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