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Expert Interview

  • J. Puckett

  • Senior Partner & Managing Director
  • Dallas
Insight into the primary issues in education around the world.

J. is a senior partner and managing director in BCG’s Dallas office. He leads BCG's efforts in the transformation of public education and is a member of BCG's Technology and Organization practices. J. has significant experience working with large organizations on issues of strategy, transformation, and organization alignment.

Why does BCG work in education?

BCG’s mission in the education sector is to drive significant social impact by dramatically improving education and educational outcomes for students while simultaneously contributing to BCG in a significant way.

What are the primary issues in education around the world?

The issues are quite different depending on whether we are talking about developed economies, developing economies, or universities. In developing economies, the main problems we see concern access to education. Many people in developing economies have no access to schools—in fact, schools are used to deliver products other than education, such as food and health care.

In developed economies, the primary issues revolve around the quality of schools and the unequal quality of education: everybody has access to education, but the caliber of the schools is uneven, so there are varying levels of performance across institutions. We need to raise the overall quality and reduce the disparity that exists among school systems.

How do we identify pockets of success, then scale these successes to statewide or nationwide levels?

One of the most important things that school systems can do to improve performance is look at existing best practices. We see pockets of excellent methods all over the world. The problem is that they are not leveraged. For instance, in the United States, we have 15,000 different school districts, each with its own governing body—and, to a great extent, failing to share best practices. These practices do not have to be reinvented; we just need to understand what they are and then apply them to school systems in a more universal way.

How can change be sustained?

Fundamentally changing how education works is a process that must involve a broad group of stakeholders. Any one school district contains many players who care deeply about making a difference in the schools. Part of our work involves engaging with all of these stakeholders—school leaders, school boards, city or community government officials, and parents—to gain an understanding of what is important to them. Even local business communities are stakeholders in changing public education. A critical element of sustaining the change is commitment by all the stakeholders, both to the need for change and to the specific elements of the change.

How do we develop effective strategies to recruit, evaluate, develop, and retain our most talented citizens in the education sector?

The most important talent in school systems consists of the teachers who are in front of the students every day. The quality of that talent varies widely. It is critical that schools be able to attract and retain excellent teachers. We are seeing innovation in this area in the form of organizations that are starting to span the globe. One such organization, Teach for America, is bringing gifted new college graduates into the classroom—people who have not been trained as educators but whose major may be math or science and who have been attracted to the classroom via Teach for America. Similar programs, such as Teach for Australia, are popping up in other countries.

How will we measure and manage performance?

There are no common standards—within countries or even within states—for measuring and managing student achievement. One key aspect of ensuring improvement in schools is to put in place a common method to both measure and manage performance. It is critical to have logical metrics that are tied to the overall goals and to employ high-quality data systems to track student performance at the individual level while enabling comparison of the quality of instruction among districts, schools, and classrooms.

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