Manage "Human Capital" Strategically

By Odden, Allan | Phi Delta Kappan, April 2011 | Go to article overview
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Manage "Human Capital" Strategically

Odden, Allan, Phi Delta Kappan

Managing people wisely should be at the core of all school or district improvement work.

Education is a people-intensive proposition. By most estimates, 85% of school and district budgets are devoted to salaries and benefits, a figure that means that the manner in which leaders identify and develop their most important asset determines to a great degree the success of the enterprise. That figure also means that cutting school and district budgets significantly without reducing employees or their compensation is next to impossible.

In the awkward argot of policy and research, what was once known as "human resource management" has become "strategic management of human capital." That phrasing may sound a bit cumbersome, but it neatly captures the new thinking about the strategic role that managing educator talent plays in a district's success. When school and district leaders understand the potential for such strategic management, human resources will no longer be relegated to a back-bench position.

Strategically managing human capital in education is about restructuring the entire human resource system. That means that recruitment, selection, distribution, induction, professional development, performance management and evaluation, compensation, and career progression are all restructured to boost teacher and principal effectiveness in ways that dramatically improve instructional practice and student learning.

In order to accomplish current education goals to educate all children, and especially low-income and minority children, to world-class performance standards, schools need talented and well-prepared teachers and leaders. But the current system doesn't recruit, train, hire, induct, deploy, develop, retain, or strategically manage the top talent needed to accomplish these goals. These shortcomings are most acute in the largest urban districts and in many rural districts. The worst problems include:

* Lack of a comprehensive and strategic human resource management system;

* Historic inability to recruit the best and brightest into education;

* Difficulty staffing high-needs schools, too many of which have excess numbers of unqualified and ineffective teachers and principals;

* Chronic shortages of teachers in such subjects as math, science, and technology;

* High teacher turnover;

* Professional development systems that spend lots of money with little effect on teaching practice or student achievement; and

* Compensation systems that pay teachers for factors unrelated or weakly related to effective instruction or gains in student learning.

No system with these severe and systemic dysfunctions can hope to dramatically improve its performance.

Schools need two key ingredients. The first is talented people. All school systems need smart and capable people at all levels. However, poor urban and rural districts have been on the short end of the educator talent stick for decades. They suffer the most talent shortages and are most in need of strategic talent management. Thus one of their prime emphases should be creating strategies to recruit, place, develop, and retain top talent.

The second ingredient is strategic management of that talent. Just finding talented people and turning them loose is not sufficient. As businesses and other organizations have learned over the past decades, the highest performing organizations not only recruit and retain smart and capable individuals, they also manage them in ways that support the organization's strategic direction. This requires aligning all aspects of the human resource management system (much more than just the personnel or human resource office) around multiple measures of teaching effectiveness. The goal is to redesign the entire human capital management system so that effective teacher talent is acquired, placed strategically and distributed equitably in schools and districts, developed to the district's vision of instructional effectiveness and student performance, and retained over time.

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