James Pethokoukis

Politics and policy from inside Washington

Would Tim Pawlenty be America’s Six Sigma president?

Mar 28, 2011 19:04 UTC

Much more of this, please:

Six Sigma dates back to 1986, when a Motorola engineer created the methodology to boost productivity and quality with as few errors in production as possible — fewer than 3.4 defects for every 1 million attempts, to be exact. The result was data-driven program that systematically measures, defines and analyzes all aspects of a business. Its name derives from a statistical term that calculates how far a process deviates from perfection.

Pawlenty was first introduced to Six Sigma during his tenure as governor. In 2003, the new commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency brought in Six Sigma to train her staff. At the time, agency was only issuing about 9 percent of its permits every six months. But with Black Belts and Green Belts from Six Sigma on board, the agency greatly accelerated its work and began issuing 70 percent of the permits within that time frame — all without layoffs or relaxing environmental standards.

Pawlenty admitted he hasn’t taken the Six Sigma Six Sigma dates back to 1986, when a Motorola engineer created the methodology to boost productivity and quality with as few errors in production as possible — fewer than 3.4 defects for every 1 million attempts, to be exact. The result was data-driven program that systematically measures, defines and analyzes all aspects of a business. Its name derives from a statistical term that calculates how far a process deviates from perfection.

I repeat, voters would be more willing to accept cuts to favored programs if they felt government operated a bit more like FedEx or Wal-Mart.

How big a budget fight?

Mar 28, 2011 18:19 UTC

I partially agree with Philip Klein of the Washington Examiner:

As everybody who studies the federal budget knows, the true drivers of our long-term debt are entitlement programs. Under President Obama’s proposed budget, so-called “mandatory spending” on programs including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid would approach $3.5 trillion by 2021, according to the Congressional Budget Office, representing roughly 60 percent of that year’s federal spending.

So the question facing conservative activists is whether to focus all their energies on the short-time budget fight that deals with $61 billion in cuts over the next several months, or place more emphasis the next fight that could affect spending for decades to come.

There’s nothing wrong with making gradual-but-sustained progress on an issue.  But don’t underestimate the important of cutting discretionary spending. If such spending were rolled back to 2008 levels, frozen for a decade and then allowed to increase at 3 percent a year, the long-term savings would be equal to long-term Social Security deficit.

The economics of small classroom size

Mar 28, 2011 18:11 UTC

A charter school boss runs the numbers (via the WaPo):

At Harlem Success Academy Charter School, where we’ve gotten some of the best results in New York City, some classes are comparatively large because we believe our money is better spent elsewhere. In fifth grade, for example, every student gets a laptop and a Kindle with immediate access to an essentially unlimited supply of e-books. Every classroom has a Smart Board, a modern blackboard that is a touch-screen computer with high-speed Internet access. Every teacher has a laptop, video camera, access to a catalogue of lesson plans and videotaped lessons.

Outfitting a classroom this way costs about $40,000, or $13,500 amortized over three years. That’s how much New York charter schools receive per pupil annually, so we can afford this by just increasing class size by a single student. .. In other words, a 19th-century school can be transformed into a well-managed 21st-century school by adding just two students per classroom. Reducing class size is expensive because most costs vary with class size. Decrease a class from 25 to 24 students and you need to hire 4 percent more teachers as well as build and maintain 4 percent more buildings.

Obsession with class size is causing many public schools to look like relics. We spend so much to employ lots of teachers that there isn’t enough left to help these teachers be effective. According to the city’s education department, New York public schools spend on average less than 3 percent of their budgets on instructional supplies and equipment (1 percent), textbooks (0.6 percent), library books and librarians (0.5 percent), and computer support (0.5 percent). Basic supplies are rationed in absurd ways: A school will pay $5 million in salaries to teachers who end up wasting time writing on blackboards because the school has run out of paper that costs a penny a page. (Don’t believe me? Ask a teacher.)

Also, class sizes would not need to be as small if teachers were better trained in classroom management skills. Here is a bit from a must-read NYTimes magazine piece on the topic:

By figuring out what makes the great teachers great, and passing that on to the mass of teachers in the middle, he said, “we could ensure that the average classroom tomorrow was seeing the types of gains that the top quarter of our classrooms see today.” He has made a guess about the effect that change would have. “We could close the gap between the United States and Japan on these international tests within two years.”

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