can continue to follow the same practices that have brought them success in the past. But firms facing rapid changes must adapt to changing conditions. This becomes even more challenging when the technology of production is uncertain and requires considerable trial and error to get it right (Murname and Nelson, 1984). Schools often face changes in student populations as neighborhoods change, precipitous changes in budgets from year to year, rapid changes in electronic technologies and their capabilities, and changes in teacher supply as relative salaries change (Murname et al., 1991), as well as new demands such as AIDS education. Yet schools are typically obliged to follow centrally adopted curricula, rules, regulations, and mandates that are obstacles to change and generally lack internal decision-making mechanisms that could be used to adapt to change, if greater input into decision making were permitted. Schools need to have the ability to make decisions on resource allocation in order to adjust to disequilibria (Schultz, 1975).
Finally, efficient firms need to adopt the most productive technologies consistent with cost constraints. Unfortunately, schools tend to follow historical approaches despite attempts to change them through educational reforms (Cuban, 1990). Although most schools still use approaches that require students to memorize material as it is presented, considerable research finds that this is an inefficient teaching and learning technique (e.g., Peterson, 1989; Gardner and Hatch, 1990; Knapp et al., 1992). A more effective approach is to enable students to build on previous experiences and engage in new activities that allow them to construct their own understanding through research, hands-on projects, and other applications. In many respects, this is the approach used for gifted and talented students, but it is becoming increasingly recognized that it works more effectively for all students (Feldhusen, 1992).
Relative to the five characteristics of efficient, productive firms, schools seem to be ill equipped to produce educational services efficiently. The Accelerated Schools Project was designed to improve school productivity dramatically by altering these five dimensions. Starting with only two pilot schools in 1986–1987, the project comprised more than 700 elementary and middle schools in 37 states by 1994–1995. It was designed to transform public schools with high concentrations of at-risk students into organizations that will make all students academically able by the end of elementary school and sustain high levels of achievement through middle school to prepare such students for academically demanding high schools. In the past the schools relied primarily on remedial education, which slows the pace of learning and reduces learning expectations.