In education, productivity is often taken to mean using the inputs and processes of schooling in ways that increase desired outcomes. The most common measures of outcomes have been students' academic achievement while they are in school (often measured by scores on standardized tests) and student performance upon entering the labor market (generally measured by wages) (Burtless, 1996:3).
This comparatively narrow view of the desired outputs of education, and therefore of the meaning of productivity in education, does not take into account the variety of goals that Americans typically hold for their schools. Improvements in character, citizenship, and physical and mental health are just some of the nonacademic outcomes that schools have been expected to foster. Moreover, schools (like churches, for example) are often valued for the quality of the experience itself. For example, many people would argue that an important aspect of school performance is the kind of environment children experience during their many years of enforced school attendance. In other words, the process of schooling may be a valued aspect of school performance in and of itself, distinguishable from the value placed on the outcomes of education.
The variety of goals Americans hold for their schools is a key reason why educational productivity is hard to define and measure. To make operational the concept of productivity first requires the specification of which educational outcomes are of primary interest. While applying the concept of productivity in education is often frustratingly hard, it is worth observing that contrary to popular wisdom, productivity is also a complex topic in business. The committee found that the difficulties in grappling with the concept echoed those of an earlier National Research Council panel, which was established to think about how improved organizational linkages might contribute to productivity growth in American business. That panel found itself similarly torn over the appropriate concept and definition of productivity to use. It noted (National Research Council, 1994:8):
Perhaps the panel is not alone in being unable to arrive at a consensus. In a review of the literature on productivity, Pritchard (1991) found that the term productivity was used to encompass constructs as diverse as efficiency, output, motivation, individual performance, organizational effectiveness, production profitability, cost-effectiveness, competitiveness, and work quality . . . .
Panel members held one or the other of two positions regarding the concept of productivity. Some wanted to define productivity as the ratio of outputs to inputs, in line with the original definition of the term by labor economists. They believe that this is the only definition that is unique to the concept. Others argued that this definition is too restrictive. They believe that productivity must encompass concepts such as quality and effectiveness to be meaningful.
That panel resolved its dilemma by adopting a systems model of organizational performance and recognizing productivity as but one of seven interrelated