Lean School District: 12 Service Delivery Opportunities

July 20, 2017
Getting Smart

In most states, there is no new money coming to K-12 education and in many areas enrollments are flat or declining–not a pleasant combination for school district administrators. A growing budget covers many ills; a shrinking budget limits options and aggravates sore spots.

Health care, the justice system and infrastructure will keep eating a bigger chunk of state budgets. Charter, private and home school enrollments will continue to grow slowly. Concurrent college enrollments and nontraditional providers (particularly in states experimenting with education savings accounts) will chip away at enrollments.

Because there are as many non-teaching adults as teachers in American education system, there is an opportunity for innovation and reinvesting in classrooms. It’s not the budget crisis we faced in 2009, but it’s a drag on the system that makes it harder to invest in improvement and innovation, and likely to persist and worsen for the next two decades.

How can school district leaders get out in front of this problem of declining budgets and give their schools the best chance to be successful? Drawing on lessons from dynamic organizations and Silicon Valley start-ups, there is a lean district opportunity that leverages design thinking, iterative development and platform strategies to promote efficiency and effectiveness.

New learning and organizational models suggest that layers of hierarchy are wasteful and unnecessary. Successful organizations have a clear mission-focus and are responsive and adaptive in pursuing key performance objectives. They push decision making as close to the customer as possible, often drawing the customer into the organization platform and feedback loops.

  • Cloud-based subscription services.
  • Services informed by artificial intelligence (increasing the likelihood that they’ll get smarter and better over time).
  • Working and learning in a network of schools on common service platforms.

The first step is to make the big decision about how the district is going to work. There are three general operating models for school districts:

  • Enterprise districts (like managed school networks) share goals and the learning model (curriculum, assessment, teaching practices); the school model (structure, schedule, staffing); information systems, learning platform and access devices; and professional learning opportunities.
  • Portfolio districts are more like an authorizer than an operator. Most budget and operating decisions are made at the school or network level.
  • Shared decision-making districts are a mix: central office makes some decisions, schools make others and some are negotiated.

Most small districts are enterprise districts–they use a common curriculum and shared tools. Most medium districts are some version of shared decisions. Most big cities have a mixed portfolio of schools, although the school district may not operate like a portfolio.

The following are 12 typical school district functional areas where there are usually opportunities to boost efficiency and effectiveness. Approaches will vary based on the district strategy (enterprise versus portfolio). A few areas of opportunity are noted for illustration. Read more.

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