Sociology Mind
2012. Vol.2, No.3, 255-260
Published Online July 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 255
Effectiveness and Efficiency of Educational Measures:
Evaluation Practices, Indicators and Rhetoric
Federica Cornali
University of Turin, Turin, Italy
Received March 2nd, 2012; r evised April 12th, 2012; accepted M ay 15th, 2012
In recent years, evaluating the performance of educational organizations has sparked increasing interest
and debate. Many expectations ride on the smooth operation of school systems. It is widely believed that
countries’ social and economic well-being will depend to an ever greater extent on the quality of their citi-
zens’ education: the emergence of the so-called “knowledge society”, the transformation of information
and the media, and increasing specialization on the part of organizations all call for high skill profiles and
levels of knowledge. Today’s education systems are required to be both effective and efficient, or in other
words, to reach the goals set for them while making the best use of available resources. This paper, by
presenting and discussing a case study, will analyze several dimensions of schools’ effectiveness and effi-
ciency, highlighting the importance of selecting evaluation procedures that can provide representations
that reflect the actual situation to the greatest possible extent.
Keywords: Education Policies; Evaluation; Effectiveness; Efficiency
For some time now, several of the major national and inter-
national organizations that support education and economic
development (UNESCO and the OECD, for example) have
published an extensive set of indicators that describe the main
characteristics of how education systems work in a number of
countries: student flows and levels of educational attainment,
schools and their environment and the costs of education. In-
formation about educational institutions can be provided by a
variety of sources; it can be intended for administrative use or
made public; it can concern different levels: the system, the
school, the class. In all cases, however, its aims are the same: to
increase the knowledge and understanding of educational insti-
tutions and support evaluation processes. Evaluating education
policies means expressing a judgment based on a controlled
process of investigation regarding the relevance, the advisabil-
ity and effects of the action that has been taken. The CIPP
(Context, Input, Process, Product) model proposed by Stuffle-
beam (1968) over forty years ago provides a solid analytical
basis for evaluating education policies. By considering the
economic and socio-cultural setting in which the school oper-
ates and to which it must adapt its educational provision (Con-
text), the human, technological and financial resources that are
available, as well as the applicable laws and regulations (Input),
the activities (Process) and the results (Product), this model
provides an accurate description of school systems. The success
of the CIPP model firmly established evaluation practices based
on massive collections of data. In two successive conferences
(Washington D.C. in 1987, and Poitiers in 1988), the US De-
partment of Education and the OECD Secretariat emphasized
the need for high quality indicators for all significant aspects of
education systems (OECD 1994). To arrive at a useful repre-
sentation of education systems, it is first of all essential that
these indicators represent all of the dimensions involved se-
mantically. Second, they must be logically and empirically
related, in order to provide a consistent data set.
It cannot be ignored that limiting evaluation to examining
and comparing the main descriptors of education systems—
what Pawson and Tilley (1997) call “quantitative meta-analysis”—
creates distortions, chiefly because of the failure to identify
causal links, the excessive simplification of outcomes (di-
chotomized as either success or failure), and the insufficient
consideration given to differences in context. Indicator-based
evaluation, though requiring analysis and further investiga-
tion—to identify the mechanisms activated together with vari-
ous application situations, for example, as well as the results
achieved on the whole—now ranks among the most highly
accredited analysis procedures and has thus been adopted by
the major national and international educational research agen-
cies. The usefulness of indicators is proportionate to their abil-
ity to describe the central and lasting characteristics of school
systems and to furnish information about real or potential prob-
lems, with a view to formulating targeted policies or measures.
What dimensions should be examined, and what parameters
should be compared in order to arrive at reliable estimates of
the performance of education systems? The following para-
graphs will focus on “effectiveness” and “efficiency”, two as-
pects at the center of the educational debate. Our aim is to an-
swer the following questions: to what specific conceptual areas
do the two terms refer? What types of public discourse revolve
around evaluations of effectiveness and efficiency? Accord-
ingly, we will present, examine and discuss a measure, viz., the
introduction of the single class teacher in Italian elementary
schools, which was intended by the legislator as a means of
achieving both of these goals.
Administering Resources, Achieving Results
Evaluation addresses two distinct factors: effectiveness and
efficiency. The first concerns the school system’s ability to
achieve its institutional goals: teaching general and abstract
knowledge—as is needed to master languages, symbols, im-
ages and concepts—and transmitting cognitive methods and
thought patterns. The second factor concerns the ability to
achieve assigned aims by making the best use of all allocated
resources. Effectiveness indicators refer both to the outputs of
education systems in terms of observable products—for in-
stance, the number of graduates in a given school year—and to
the outcomes achieved, i.e., the degree to which goals are
reached, as demonstrated, for example, by students’ scores on
tests of their skills and knowledge in curriculum subjects. Effi-
ciency indicators, on the other hand, are economic in nature:
public expenditure, private expenditure, total expenditure, ex-
penditure per student, cumulative unit expenditure by level of
education, current and capital expenditure, and public spending
on education in relation to GDP and to total public spending.
There is no clear-cut dichotomy between effectiveness and
efficiency: there are infinite gradations in achieving education’s
goals, just as there are infinite gradations in the economical
management of capital, be it monetary or otherwise. Moreover,
both properties have an internal dimension and an external one.
Internal effectiveness and efficiency can be estimated within a
given setting. In education, for example, they can concern the
impact of a particular teaching method on students in the same
institution or program, or the specific use of certain resources in
the same educational sector. By contrast, external effectiveness
or efficiency are extra-sectorial, as they extend comparison
beyond the setting in question. In the case of education, they
can relate to the impact of a certain type of training in several
sectors of the economy, or the outcomes of school tracks in
terms of individual costs and benefits.
Lockheed and Hanushek (1994) constructed a typology of
educational function stemming from the different relationships
arising between the stimuli to the school system—the inputs
and its observable products, the outputs (see below, Figure 1).
In planning education policies, effectiveness and efficiency
are usually pursued together. Though they refer to different
types of outcome, the two goals are always seen as related.
While all efficient school organizations are also effective, given
that effectiveness is an essential prerequisite for efficiency, the
converse is fairly frequently heard: not all effective school sys-
tems are also efficient. Every inefficient school system (or
educational institution) can be inefficient in its own way. Prof-
itable use of resources, in fact, depends on a number of ele-
ments; broadly speaking, however, there are two aspects that
are most important. The first, the so-called “allocative effi-
ciency”, regards how resources are earmarked, whether they be
human resources (teachers, technical-administrative personnel
and aids) or tangible resources such as funding or technological
facilities. The second, called “technical efficiency”, regards the
optimal use of the resources themselves.
The taxonomy proposed by Lockheed and Hanushek is of
considerable interest, as it makes it possible to focus on the
different types of resource (monetary and non-monetary) and
the different levels (internal and external) involved in analyzing
educational effectiveness and efficiency. The problem, however,
is that there are no reliable estimates of the so-called intangible
assets. In general, “assets” are defined as any goods that can
generate future benefits, while “intangible” denotes the particu-
lar category of assets that are not physical in nature. In the
world of education, intangible assets make up most of the
school’s total value, as they include the skills of teachers and
staff, new ideas, good teaching practices, contacts with the local
area and relationships with parents, and much more. Together,
as Lev (2001) maintains, intangible assets are an extremely
important capital—which he calls “organizational capital”—on
which the overall success of an organization depends. While
many studies have examined the role and weight of intangible
assets in industry and industrial services, few have addressed
the part they play in public general-interest services. Estimates
of efficiency in such services thus concentrate primarily on
monetary assets. In a time of tight budgets and beleaguered
public finances, cutting expenses is thus a priority goal, par-
ticularly in view of the fact that spending less does not neces-
sarily mean having to accept lower performance. In education,
a lengthy series of studies have ratified the findings published
by Coleman and colleagues (1966) nearly fifty years ago: stu-
dents’ levels of attainment are only weakly associated with the
amount of resources provided to schools. This was recently
confirmed by the OECD’s Programme for International Student
Assessment (PISA), a survey that subjected a sample of 15-year
old students from over forty countries to tests of their reading,
mathematical and scientific literacy. When we compare spend-
ing per student in compulsory education (given that young peo-
ple in this cohort are still at compulsory school) in several of
the countries that achieved the best reading scores in the 2009
survey, we find an enormous variability. Good performance
(scores above 500) correspond to a wide range of annual
per-student outlays, both well below and well above the OECD
Figure 1.
Effectiveness and efficiency of educational systems. Source: Adapted from Lockheed and Hanushek (1994).
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Figure 2.
Expenditure per student during c ompulsory schooling in U S dollars (2007) and students’ reading sc ores (PISA 2009). Source: OECD 2010.
average of 8070 purchasing power parity-adjusted US dollars
(see Figure 2).
The OECD statistics also show that many countries achieve
rather poor performance despite massive spending in education.
These countries include Luxembourg, with the highest yearly
expenditure (16,632 USD) and whose young people score only
472 on average, as well as the Slovak Republic (11,403 USD in
spending and an average score of 477), Austria (9801 USD in
spending and an average score of 470) and Italy (8661 USD in
spending and an average score of 486).
Can aggregating analytical data from a variety of sources—
such as the collections of input, process, output and product
indicators—tell us something about how well school systems
operate? Simply put, yes. However, before taking students’
scores in standardized tests—or other types of performance
indicators—as expression of the success of education systems,
it is advisable to check the relationships that can link school
outcomes to presumable sources of variation. As suggested by
Johnes (2004), it is also useful to emphasize that school sys-
Operate wit h a large variety of internal structures,
Operate with different external contexts and highly varied
local systems,
Produce multiple outputs (joint production) from a broad
range of inputs, and
Are subject to different strategies, depending on the level of
governance in question (internal, regional, national, Euro-
pean, international).
Effective and Efficient Education? The Case of
the Single Class Teacher
The Italian school system has recently been swept by a series
of reforms with the two-fold aim of improving its effectiveness
and efficiency. Recent statistical surveys and investigations
indicate that Italy’s schools turn out a lower percentage of
graduates than those of other developed countries, providing
them with an average quality of education that falls far short of
excellent, despite the fact that funding is by no means inade-
quate (see the preceding paragraph). The reforms have affected
all levels of education (primary, lower and upper secondary,
and university) and were introduced, with varying degrees of
acceptance and approval on the part of the public and educators,
with no preliminary trial period. One of the innovations that
proved most controversial with the general public and special-
ists in the field was the change in how teaching is organized in
primary school, which in Italy lasts five years and is generally
attended by children from six to eleven years of age. While the
younger students were previously grouped into classes with
three teachers—each dealing with a different area of learning:
language and other forms of expression, math and science, and
the humanities—who divided their time evenly between two
different classes in the so-called “modular organization”, the
entry into force of Law 133 of August 6, 2008 introduced the
“single class teacher”. As Article 4 of this law states, “Pursuant
to the objectives for rationalization […] primary school institu-
tions shall set up classes en trusted to a single teacher and func-
tioning according to a schedule of twenty-four hours per week”.
This change put an end to the former practice whereby sev-
eral teachers were present in the same class in any given period,
and assigned a major role to the “single class teacher”. This
teacher is responsible for the entire core curriculum, and coor-
dinates the work of the specialist teachers who deal with sub-
jects such as foreign languages, religion, music, physical edu-
cation or other disciplines that schools are now empowered to
add independently to their curricula.
In the debate concerning the advantages of the single class
teacher versus those of having several teachers in the same
class, the contending positions are rooted in a variety of argu-
ments. Supporters of the reform claim that very young students
need to be able to relate to a single figure, who helps them learn
the basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic. In addition,
as single teachers do not have to divide their time among sev-
eral classes, they can follow the progress of a smaller number
of students, getting to know their individual characteristics
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 257
better and thus provide personalized teaching. The reform’s
opponents, on the other hand, stress that having different teach-
ers and being able to work with them in small groups enriches
the child’s learning experience. While these arguments center
on educational and teaching considerations, the legislators who
chose to return to the single class teacher1 focused more on the
system’s efficiency. Thus, the “Draft Policy of the Ministry of
Education, Universities and Research, with the consensus of the
Ministry of the Economy and Finance” of September 23, 2008
states that: “the intention is to combine the quantitative benefits
of improving class structure and reducing teaching workload
with those of higher quality school services, effective sizing of
the system, and a more productive employment of teachers”.
The foreword to the “Draft Policy” notes that the student/
teacher ratio in Italy is lower than the OECD average, but this
does not translate into high levels of attainment or even in the
spread of educational credentials. It thus calls for measures for
reducing waste and the underutilization of facilities and re-
sources. In particular, as regard the use of teachers’ time, it is
urged that steps be taken to “increase the student/teacher ratio
by one point”. There can be no doubt that the introduction of
primary school classes with a single teacher whose classroom
time totals twenty-four hours per week (two more than in the
previous organizational model) is a move in this direction. The
legislator does not appear to have been inspired entirely by
motives of economy, as the “Draft Policy” presents the new
teaching and organizational model as the most appropriate for
learning purposes, asserting that “in the period of life between
six and ten years of age, there is a need for a single reference
figure with whom the student can have a continual and direct
The reform of primary school teaching thus had two goals: to
raise the student/teacher ratio (improving efficiency) and in-
creasing students’ knowledge and skills (improving effective-
ness). Whether the first goal was achieved can be readily de-
termined, and the Ministry of Education was able to announce
the number of teacher cuts2 that would result from the reform at
the outset. By contrast, monitoring the second goal is much less
straightforward. The measure, whose declared aim is to ensure
“an educational and organizational model which is better able
to raise learning outcomes […] and which can be a factor in
strengthening the educational relationship between teacher and
student, simplifying and making the most of the relationship
between family and school” is unclear as to the connection
between the stated ends and the means chosen to achieve them.
Nor is anything said regarding how and when results will be
Educational outcomes are influenced by many variables,
situated at multiple levels and interacting with each other. The
results of any innovation introduced will differ according the
student’s social class, his or her personal expectations and/or
those of the family, teacher motivation, the type of educational
orientation, and many other factors. Nevertheless, comparing
student performance before and after the reform was introduced
can help shed light on whether the expected goal was achieved.
For a number of years, INVALSI, the Italian national insti-
tute for educational evaluation, has administered standardized
tests of the knowledge and skills in mathematics and Italian
acquired by students in a number of grades of compulsory
school, bearing in mind the learning outcomes established for
the two subjects in question. A variety of standardized tests are
used—which may involve either multiple-choice or open-
ended response formats (e.g., essays and performance tasks)—
and are devised, administered, graded and reported in such a way
as to avoid partial or ambiguous interpretations of the results.
The national evaluation system plays a key role in gauging
the effects of education policies. The INVALSI tests provide a
historical series of student attainment data that makes it possi-
ble to compare changes in the performance over the long term
and after the large scale introduction of organizational and/or
teaching innovations.
Table 1 compares the attainment of second grade students
who attended the first two years of elementary school with
several teachers (2008-2009 school year) and that of students
who had a single class teacher (2010-2011 school year).
At first sight, this rough ex post evaluation would appear to
indicate that the introduction of the single class teacher was
successful in terms of improving the system’s effectiveness.
Evaluating education, however, is a far more complex activ-
ity. Its main purpose is not merely to determine what outcomes
were achieved and whether they met expectations and goals.
Strictly speaking, if the links connecting a situation with a prior
action taken in order to bring about change are not identified,
we cannot evaluate the outcomes of the action. A well con-
ducted evaluation thus requires that a set of variables (for the
context, input, process and product) be monitored to determine
whether or not they are related to the quality of the outcome.
For analysis to be complete, moreover, it must also include an
ex ante stage carried out for forecasting purposes which can
provide guidance in selecting between alternative measures,
outlining scenarios based on an analysis of current trends, as
well as an in itinere or ongoing evaluation during the imple-
mentation phase to check whether the measure has led to unex-
pected consequences.
In the case in question, analyzing the impact of introducing
the single class teacher is particularly arduous.
The implementation provisions for the primary school teach-
ing reform allows individual schools considerable leeway in
organizing instruction time, which can also be based on par-
ents’ preferences regarding afternoon sessions. Schools can
thus offer 24, 27 and 30 hours of instruction time per week,
with the further option of the so-called “full-time” 40-hour
school week. It should be noted that two teachers are assigned
to the full-time classes, though they are not present in the
classroom at the same time. In the 2009-2010 school year—the
only post-reform year for which data are available—the per-
centage of students attending a 24-hour school week was tiny,
at only 0.7%.
To say that all these conditions are related to improvements
in student attainment is clearly something of a risk. And it is
probably also misleading, given that the same period of time
also saw an improvement (and a much more significant one) in
the learning outcomes of fifth grade students who were unaf-
fected by the introduction of the single class teacher3 (see be-
ow, Table 2).
1Italian elementary school classes were held by a single teacher until Law
148 of June 5, 1990 introduced the multiple-teacher a
proach after a trial
2For the three years following the reform, the Ministry estimated that
87,000 teaching jobs would be eliminated through attrition at all levels o
education. For primary school teachers, it was announced that a total o
around 28,000 positions would be cut in 2009-2012, including 9245 in the
2011-2012 scho ol ye a r.
3The reform took effect in the 2009-2010 school year starting with the first
grade, and was gradua ll y extended to all grades in the following ye ars.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 259
Table 1.
Percentage of correct answers* by second grade students in mathematics and Italian achievement tests, 2008-2009 and 2010-2011 school years.
Italian Mathematics
Lower limit Mean Upper limit Lower limit Mean Upper limit
2008-2009 scho ol ye ar 64.5% 65.0% 65.5% 54.3% 54.9% 55.4%
2010-2011 scho ol ye ar 68.5% 69.2% 69.8% 59.8% 60.3% 60.9%
*The percentage score is calculated as the percentage ratio of the number of correctly answered questions to the total nu mber of questions. The “lower limit” is the lower
limit of the confidence interval containing the mean with a 95% probability. The “upper limit” is the upper limit of the confidence inte rval containing the mean with a 95%
probability. Source: INVALSI 2009 and 2011.
Table 2.
Percentage of correct answers* by fifth grade students in mathematics and Italian achievement tests, 2008-2009 and 2010-201 1 school years.
Italian Mathematics
Lower limit Mean Upper limit Lower limitMean Upper limit
2008-2009 school year 61.8% 62.3% 62.7% 56.6% 57.1% 57.7%
2010-2011 school year 72.7% 73.1% 73.5% 68.1% 68.4% 68.7%
*The percentage score is calculated as the percentage ratio of the number of correctly answered questions to th e total number o f questions. The “lower limit” is the lower
limit of the confidence interval containing the mean with a 95% probability. The “upper limit” is the upper limit of the confidence inte rval containing the mean with a 95%
probability. Source: INVALSI 2009 and 2011.
To what other factors, then, can the improvements be as-
A more analytical examination, taking the outcomes of indi-
vidual schools or classes into consideration, could enable us to
single out a certain number of factors of change in order to
estimate their impact on student attainment.
There can be many such factors, and many different types.
However, given that the improvement in attainment can be seen
at both of the levels of education that were examined (primary
school and lower secondary school) and in all of the areas of
the country considered (Northeast, Northwest, Central Italy,
South and the islands), there would appear to be good reason to
look for a factor that influences the system as a whole.
One such factor is of particular importance: the gradual
spread of a new approach to assessing students based on stan-
dardized tests In Italy, unlike other countries with advanced
school systems, structured tests were long considered as inap-
propriate for verifying attainment, and other assessment meth-
ods—chiefly centering on an oral presentation of the course
content learned by the student—were preferred. Recently—
thanks to the greater emphasis given to the work of the IN-
VALSI evaluation institute and participation in international
programs such as the Progress in Reading Literacy Study
(PIRLS) and the Trends in International Mathematics and Sci-
ence Study (TIMSS) conducted by the International Associa-
tion for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA)—we
have seen the rise of large-scale tests that, building on major
advances in statistical techniques (Item Response Theory, for
example), provide valid, reliable data on student achievement.
The current trend, though doubtless positive inasmuch as a
rigorous evaluation can stimulate improvement in course qual-
ity, is not without its downsides. It is widely recognized, for
instance, that schools attempt to ensure that good test scores are
achieved by devoting increasing amounts of classroom time to
exercises preparing students for this type of assessment, cutting
into the space available for in-depth coursework or creative
activities. In certain situations, teachers have even been seen to
provide their students with the correct answers during nation-
wide tests, fearful that poor scores would reflect badly on their
own work (INVALSI, 2011).
This aspect must not be forgotten, if we are to avoid attribut-
ing excessive importance to students’ scores on standardized
tests. As in the case we have just mentioned, information of this
kind is not always of great assistance in formulating a judgment
regarding the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of a given educa-
tional innovation.
Because of its intrinsic difficulties, evaluating education poli-
cies is thus often limited to a mere description (qualitative
and/or quantitative) of the efforts made to improve the school
system. At times, it is accompanied by a judgment regarding
effectiveness or ineffectiveness, consisting in generic consid-
erations about the “quality” of the service, where quality is for
the most part seen as a question of compliance with organiza-
tional standards or the level of satisfaction expressed by users.
Ever more frequently, the need to follow the standards of the
European Community is cited as the justification when an edu-
cational measure is adopted. In the case of the introduction of
the single class teacher, the measure’s proponents did not fail to
point out that assigning a team of three teachers to each class
was entirely unknown outside of Italy. If we look at the EU-
RYDICE statistics (2011), in fact, we see that elsewhere, from
Portugal to Lithuania, from Greece to Finland, and in England
and France, primary school teaching is in the hands of a single
teacher who is responsible for the students’ learning and, in
certain cases, is assisted by specialist teachers for physical
education, art, and so forth4. In some countries such as the
United Kingdom and Malta, there is a single teacher for each
grade, or in other words, the students change teacher every
school year, partly in order to prevent any situations of conflict
that may arise between teacher, student and family from spiral-
ing out of control, but chiefly to enable teachers to improve
4In Germany, the situation is hybrid: there is a single teacher in first and
second grade, and specialized teachers are introduced in the third grade so
that the student can become accusto med to having several edu cators.
their teaching methods for children of different ages.
Reducing the number of teachers per student and bringing it
closer to the European Union average is a legitimate objective,
especially in view of the fact that having a large number of
teachers is not matched by an increase in classroom time, which
is often limited to the morning hours, particularly in Central
and Southern Italy. Nevertheless, to assume that achieving this
goal also leads t o an improvement in teaching quality is perhaps
over-bold. The many studies of teaching effectiveness demon-
strate the importance of other teacher variables: training and
continuing education, good pay and other economic incentives,
career prospects: all factors that are entirely absent from the
Italian school system.
The ultimate aims of an education policy are often unstated.
At times, they are camouflaged: measures inspired by financial
dictates (such as tight school budgets) or by political reasons
(to accede to the demands of pressure groups or unions, for
example) may be presented as a means of achieving goals that
are important for teaching and educational quality, or as de-
signed to rationalize the public administration. Just as fre-
quently, such measures have a multitude of stated objectives,
expressed in highly general terms. Consequently, any attempt to
verify the results of these measures is an operation of little
practical value. If the expected outcomes in terms of effective-
ness and efficiency, both internal and external, are not clearly
stated beforehand, evaluation will be nothing more than a trivial
rhetorical exercise.
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