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Return on Instruction (ROI) Revisited

The pursuit to improve never ends and nor should it. With all of the disruption we see as a result of the 4th Industrial Revolution, changes to how we educate kids have to be considered. The result has been districts, schools, and educators making a great deal of investment in an array of ideas, strategies, and solutions with the goal of improving learning for all kids. Obviously, this makes sense, and I am all for it. However, caution must be exerted when there is an urge to purchase the next “silver bullet” or embrace ideas that sound great on the surface but have little to show in terms of evidence of improvement at scale. Results, both qualitative and quantitative, matter, and this is something that everyone should be mindful of.

Over the years, I have not shied away from discussing the need to align ideas and strategies to research as well as evidence that shows in some way that there is an improvement in student outcomes. Seems fair and reasonable, right? You would think so as the teacher and principal in me know full well that results matter, especially when dealing with increased mandates, initiative overload, limited time, and lack of money. Herein lies why the allure of the “next best thing” is so compelling, and everyone is so quick to jump on the bandwagon. Just because something sounds or looks good doesn’t mean that it is, plain and simple. This applies to what is seen on social media, in marketing assets, and at conferences. Being a critical consumer is more important than ever. I’d even go as far as to say that it is our duty, something I elaborate greatly on in Digital Leadership


However, it is essential to go beyond just the consumption aspect as outlined above and be just as critical during the implementation phase. A sound strategic plan, not online focus, on where you want to go and how you will get there, but also a set of measures for success and a determination of how things went. A few years back I tackled this through strictly a technology lens and brought forward the concept of a Return on Instruction (ROI); borrowing from the term “return on investment” synonymous with virtually every profession.  In retrospect, this was shortsighted and not encompassing of all the many competing and complementing elements that are pursued simultaneously. Below is my evolved take:
 "When investing in technology, programs, professional development, and innovative ideas, there needs to be a Return on Instruction (ROI) that results in evidence of improved student learning outcomes." 
If you take a look at my original post, you will see that evidence comes in many forms, not just data. The bottom line is why make an investment to improve teaching, learning, and leadership but have nothing to show for it? That would prove to be quite frustrating, to say the least. To be clear, I am not talking about fluffy ideas or opinions, but actually substantive changes to practice that lead to real change. So how can you determine an ROI? Some guiding questions that might help are below:

  • How have instructional design and pedagogy changed?
  • How has the scaffolding of both questions and tasks changed?
  • How have student work and products changed?
  • How has assessment changed?
  • How has feedback changed?
  • How has the use of data changed?
  • How has the learning culture changed?
  • How has leadership changed?
  • How has meeting the needs of students who need specialized supports changed?
  • How has professional learning changed? 

The questions above will be answered differently as each district, school, and educator is unique as well as the respective culture. The key is to think broadly about financial and time investments to determine if in fact, they are paying off. Both are important. Another aspect to consider is realism. In the end, results matter.

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