Education Secretary Arne Duncan told school officials Nov. 17 to look at saving money in their districts by increasing productivity. Duncan spoke at an American Enterprise Institute event called “Bang for the Buck in Schooling,” and he warned that schools will “have to face the challenge of doing more with less.”
“It’s time to start treating the problem of productivity as an opportunity,” said Duncan. He called the current crisis affecting school budgets “the new normal,” suggesting that education leaders should get used to tighter school budgets and should adjust their practices accordingly.
“The strategy is to pare back less-than-essential costs while minimizing the effect on children,” said Duncan. He suggested lowering textbook costs by using more digital or open-access materials, consolidating bus routes, and reducing office personnel as ways for districts to cut back on spending.
“My hope is that the new normal will encourage all of us to explore productive alternatives to the old way of doing things,” he said.
Duncan spoke of high-cost money-wasters, such as the millions of dollars spent on remedial education. He told the crowd that ed tech can be a wise investment, saying that it “gives each person the tools they need to be successful and reduce[s] wasted time, energy, and money.”
“It is important to remember that boosting productivity may actually cost more money [in the short term]. The government may have to spend more money now to get a return on that investment,” he said.
Duncan did not rule out the possibility of class size increases, saying it might be a way for districts to save money.
“Districts could vary class size by subject matter or skill of the teacher, or through the use of part-time staff,” he said.
Watch Duncan at AEI
He noted that many high-performing schools in Asia have far larger class sizes than those in the United States, and he said school districts might want to weight modest increases in class sizes against the loss of music and other arts programs.
He also discussed the pay boost that teachers who hold master’s degrees receive, and he suggested a change in how schools should value these instructors .