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Lesson 2.5

How Does Education Change:
Inputs and Outcomes

What you get out of education depends a lot on…

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Many things could be done, or at least tried, to make education work better. It's impossible to do them all, so every school leader must make choices.

In choosing to make any investment of time, effort, or money, it is important to distinguish between inputs and outcomes.

  • Inputs are the conditions you grapple with or the investments you make to change them.
  • Outcomes are the results, intended or otherwise.

The true outcomes of education are long-term and a little lofty. You can imagine them as life, liberty and the capacity to pursue happiness. (For more depth, see What is Education For, Really?) These outcomes matter a lot, but on a day to day basis it's hard to aim for them. On most days, school systems have to focus on smaller stuff — interim outcomes like grades, scores, attendance, peace, and morale.

In ed-policy lingo, factors that can be directly changed with focus or investment are known as inputs.

In ed-policy lingo, factors that can be directly changed with focus or investment are known as inputs. Examples of inputs include access to healthcare, parent involvement, nutrition, exercise and the like.

For many of these, schools can have some influence, but they certainly do not fully control them. For example, public schools cannot control what kind of needs students show up with. They serve everyone.

Schools cannot control what kinds of needs students show up with.

However, there are some inputs over which local schools and districts have a great deal of control, such as:

Anti-magical thinking

It's useful to keep the idea of inputs and outcomes separate, in part, because it helps to thwart magical thinking. For example: why are we concerned about funding for schools? Because funding buys inputs, like teachers' time and training, or technology for classrooms, or crossing guards. Why do we care about school spirit? Because it might drive inputs like more time in class. Do these inputs produce important outcomes? It depends!

Many of the inputs of education cost money, a challenge discussed at greater length in the Resources chapter of Ed100.

This post was last updated October 2023.
Previous updates include:
September 2022
December 2021
May 2017


Which ONE of the following “inputs” DO schools and districts have control over?

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Questions & Comments

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user avatar
Selisa Loeza October 22, 2021 at 7:20 pm
Powerful in reflecting on the impact school boards can have on our inputs and why voting for candidates who we believe in, challenge, take action, etc. matters.
user avatar
amy su November 5, 2020 at 8:45 pm
We can only have input on the items we can control
user avatar
francisco molina August 13, 2019 at 2:21 am
The input teachers is something unpredictable because if the goal is not a success, the district explanation is about low budget and no accreditation , then they ask for more budget.
user avatar
Susannah Baxendale January 11, 2019 at 1:38 pm
I had hoped for a bit more on output--it was however helpful to have the guide to what input a school has control over and what not.
user avatar
Victoria Liu April 21, 2016 at 8:21 am
I agree with:
there are other inputs over which local schools and districts have a great deal of control, such as:
the quality of their teachers,
what is included in the curriculum,
the size of the classrooms,
the kind of leaders they hire, and
what kinds of extra services they provide to students who are struggling academically.
user avatar
Victoria Liu April 21, 2016 at 8:19 am
California could put more budget for California's Education system for high quality Education, to support the great future of California.
user avatar
lillian.hom October 23, 2015 at 12:39 pm
Great information on those motion charts. Sobering to see California's rankings.
user avatar
harplits March 16, 2015 at 1:56 pm
The motion charts are quite exceptional. Great resource!
user avatar
jenzteam February 27, 2015 at 10:02 am
PE seems to be really important in CA and although I do agree, I also feel that languages and writing should be a higher focus.
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