Better, Faster, Cheaper

Illinois' Retreat on Teacher Quality

Illinois' recent decision to drop passage of a basic skills test as a requirement for admission to a teacher-training program both sets back efforts to improve teacher quality and hurts prospective teachers. Other states would be wise to take a very different approach.

For 12 years, Illinois required students to pass a basic skills test in reading, writing and math before they could be admitted to a teacher-preparation program (usually prior to a student's junior year in college). Under the new law, students can begin taking teacher-preparation courses even if they keep flunking the skills test (though they still must pass it before they begin student teaching - usually in the second semester of senior year). READ MORE

What Government Can Do to Attract Top IT Talent

In the wake of a deadly fire, New York City officials set out to determine what buildings were most likely to burn. After an analysis determined that being in foreclosure and having been built before 1938 were among the factors strongly correlated with fire risk, the city used the data to prioritize inspections. Those inspections then yielded a 13-fold increase in the issuance of orders to vacate.

Predictive analytics is just one of the ways technology can improve both government efficiency and the quality of public services. But to achieve these goals, governments must attract and retain top-notch technology talent, and as a 2013 report prepared by a consulting firm for the Ford and John D. and Katherine T. MacArthur foundations documents, that just isn't happening. READ MORE

Milwaukee’s Push to Turn Vacant Land into Urban Farms

After one of the longer winters in recent memory, the city of Milwaukee is planning to engage in a new kind of rebirth. As the ice melts away, a number of parcels of city-owned land that have long lain vacant and unused will be coming back to life, set to become urban farms and orchards yielding healthy food along with new opportunities for employment and business entrepreneurship.

It's all part of Mayor Tom Barrett's HOME GR/OWN program, a Bloomberg Mayors Challenge finalist whose mission, beyond increasing access to fruits and vegetables, is to turn the city's growing liability of vacant, foreclosed land into an asset: space for new economic activity that helps to stabilize distressed neighborhoods. We recently had a chance to talk with HOME GR/OWN's program manager, Tim McCollow, about the program's launch now that spring appears to finally be on its way. READ MORE

How Colorado's Transportation Department Is Institutionalizing Improvement

Not so many years ago, it would have been unheard of for anyone in government to have Gary Vansuch's title. He's the director of process improvement for the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) and a symbol of the fact that change can be a very good thing.

Vansuch is charged with introducing continuous-improvement tools and techniques at CDOT. In the process, he's also overseeing a change in the department's culture. READ MORE

10 Key Questions for Launching an Effective Government Program

Implementation plans for government programs are as diverse as the constituents that they are meant to serve. What led to extraordinary results and outcomes in one city or state may cause the program to fall flat on its face in another jurisdiction. But while every program needs to be tailored for its particular setting, there are some key lessons, gleaned from the experiences of previous efforts, that can increase the chances of success and help to deliver more public value.

This list of 10 questions can be used to chart a path for a new initiative, identify how a faltering program can get back on track, or look back and see why a program hit the mark or failed short of the finish line. READ MORE