Paradoxes of Efficiency in Education (Part 2)

Larry Cuban writes in his latest blog on “Paradoxes of Efficiency in Education “:
In applying Baumol’s Cost Disease to education, additional paradoxes of efficiency turn up, for example, around class size and applying technologies to teaching and learning.
In the quest to make teaching and learning faster and better, a wealth of technological devices and software have been mobilized and put into classrooms. In the name of efficiency and effectiveness, current students have far more access to technologies than students 35 years ago when they were initially introduced. Yet test scores and other measures of academic achievement have not climbed as more machines and software have spread through U.S. classrooms. Nor have the amounts of money being spent on these new technologies decreased as they have become ubiquitous. Another instance of the quest for efficient teaching and learning leading to inefficiency.

Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice

Introducing an innovation to increase efficiency ending up with more inefficiency is a paradox. Most obviously, it occurs in transportation: fuel efficient cars that get more miles per gallon of gas than before end up multiplying demand for more such vehicles  putting more cars on roads spouting gases into the air. And in medicine–see Part 1. Such paradoxes of efficiency occur as well in education.

Are there jobs in which there are few gains in productivity–that is, workers produce more at less cost–yet wages of these “unproductive” workers rise over time. None?


Think of a string quartet playing to a live audience 300 years ago. The number of musicians and the time they needed to play a Beethoven sonata in the late 18th century  haven’t changed, yet today’s quartets playing the same sonata in the same amount of time  make far more than those four musicians centuries ago. Why…

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3 thoughts on “Paradoxes of Efficiency in Education (Part 2)

  1. Martijn Bos says:

    Thank you for posting this. I’ve experienced the paradox of efficiency and effectiveness in the Dutch education system and I recognise parts of Larry Cuban’s blog. On the other hand, some programs have done research on the effectiveness of the use of technology and reported some very interesting results:

    Click to access 2014-03-07_implementation_briefing.pdf

    What do you think of these reports and what are they contributing to the discussion on the efficiency and effectiveness of education?


    • Paul Kirschner says:

      Khan Academy is a repository of elements that can be used. It doesn’t aid the efficiency in any way; it does affect availability. While some of the resources are very good others are rather poor. It’s the teacher who, as always, is the key. Khan Academy is a support that can be used for the benefit of the good teacher. Whether it is more efficient I cannot say.


      • Martijn Bos says:

        Thank you for your reply.

        I agree with the good teacher is key but I think the KA does more to the learning process then affecting availability. “Overall 71% of students reported that they enjoyed using Khan Academy, and 32% agreed they liked math more since they started using. Khan Academy”.

        Of course, this is no proof of effectiveness or efficiency but it means something when learners enjoy the subject. Maybe these new tools for teachers are contributing in an indirect way to make learning more effective or efficient. And when 86% of the teachers who used KA would recommend it to other teachers, and 89% planned to use it with their students during the next school year, it’s doing something good the teachers as well.

        Considering that the Khan Academy is free (no costs) to use and we spend millions each year on learning methods and books then there is at least an opportunity for cost efficiency.

        We agree on the role of a good teacher. Is a good teacher someone who sees (and uses) opportunities to make his lessons more interesting and attractive to students?


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