Return on Instruction (ROI)

I found the term “return on instruction” in Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools, Today by Eric Sheninger and Thomas Murray. They suggest it is not a matter of if but when key stakeholders and decision makers will ask for indicators of evidence that illustrate positive effects of technology on student learning outcomes.

I am currently working with a school district that is implementing instructional coaching positions for the first time and I will be raising the same issue with them. In short order, a school board will be asking, “What does the coaching program cost the district and what evidence do we have concerning our return on that investment in terms of increased student learning?”

I suggest that they not wait until the question is asked, but begin immediately planning backwards from the desired increased learning outcomes that they want through the needed changes in student, teacher, and leadership behaviors. The same is true when looking at the return from the implementation of technology in teaching and learning.

The first step is to clearly define a successful return. Sheninger and Murray identify the need to develop students who are divergent thinkers prepared for college and careers and also possess confidence and drive to follow their interest and passions.

“Simply put, when integrating technology, there needs to be an ROI that results in evidence of improved student learning outcomes.”

  An article in the Twin Cities Press (MN) titled, Are iPads and laptops improving students’ test scores? Not yet, examines the “what is the desired ROI “question:

More than 75,000 students in St. Paul and its suburbs have a school-issued device they take home every day, and the remaining students have access to devices at school.

Last school year, east metro districts spent more than $17 million on student technology.

Meanwhile, student scores on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, or MCAs, which are given each year in English, mathematics and science, have largely remained stagnant.

Furthermore, Minnesota’s work to close the achievement gap between low-income and minority students and their peers has not been as successful as educators had hoped. Students who are black, Hispanic and Native American continue to score proficient on state tests at significantly lower rates than white students.

The Twin Cities Press article states that educators supporting increased technology believe more time is needed for teachers to implement new instructional strategies before the increase in student learning can be realized. Teachers using tablets as a substitute for traditional materials will need to rethink and redesign instruction. Also, some educators suggest that standardized test scores are not a good measure for the value of technology. They believe the payoffs are students developing a passion and creating their own learning pathways. Again, this requires changing teacher practice. Teachers will need to experiment with instructional strategies and share their success and failures as they explore ways technology can help students learn.

Sheninger and Murray illustrate a school district (Lockport, NY near Buffalo) that showed a positive ROI in two years with a 1:1 iPads initiative. Classrooms with iPads showed growth in ELA and Math that surpassed the growth in district classrooms without the iPads within the region and within the state. (page 88)

Robert LiPuma, Lockport’s director of Assessment and Technology, stated that the iPad was not the golden ticket to academic success. A study identified that after one year of iPads being provided classrooms had changed from traditional instruction (lecture) 67% of the time to less than 21 % of the time and students working on task and engaged in learning went from 15% to more than 75%. Instructional pedagogy had shifted.

I describe that teacher behavior/actions changed, creating a change in student production learning behaviors, which created an increase in student learning.

What changes are present in your school plan for the coming year? Are there changes in standards? Have you added additional desired learning outcomes? Have you changed texts, curriculum, or programs?

Have you clearly communicated what changes teachers need to make and how those changes should alter student learning production behaviors? Are you providing the culture and support for teachers to learn how to implement the changes in their practice?

What changes need to occur in your leadership behaviors to support the changes teachers and students would make to increase the ROI?

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Steve Barkley

For the past 35 years, Steve has served as a consultant to school districts, teacher organizations, state departments of education, and colleges and universities nationally and internationally, facilitating the changes necessary for them to reach students and successfully prepare them for the 21st century. Read more…