Traditional business looks at the world in terms of product and service categories. But the Jobs To Be Done (JTBD) theory flips that perspective on its head. Instead of segmenting a market by product categories, JTBD looks at the world from the perspective of the customer and asks, “For what job is the customer hiring a product?” As a quick example, consider the success of Starbucks. It rose to become the biggest coffee shop chain in the world by thinking about how to fill the many jobs that arise in its customers lives, not just “I need a cup of coffee” but also “I want to be part of a lifestyle” and “I want a place to relax and socialize.” Looking at the world in terms of jobs helps companies build products that better meet the needs of customers.

Our K-12 schools have many complex jobs to do, including delivering content and skills, providing socio-emotional support, assessing student learning, grading tests and papers, and supervising dozens of students five days a week. Schools have rarely rethought what “products” might be best suited to fill these roles. In fact, for over a century, they have hired the same product – teachers – to do each of these jobs. Much like the lesser coffee chains of the world who see their competitors as only coffee producers, this view in education has reduced the JTBD of schools to “I need a teacher.” And this singular focus on teachers partially explains why many teachers have struggled – it’s difficult for a single product to serve multiple jobs well. It takes a rock star teacher to be truly exceptional at all of these things required by schools.

At present (and perhaps not ever) there are not enough rock star teachers to fill the jobs of all of our schools. There is an opportunity, however, to hire different products to meet some of the jobs of our schools, thereby making it possible to have exceptional schools without depending on an army of superheroes. A number of schools are experimenting with new models that refocus teachers on certain jobs while hiring different products to meet other needs. As an example, each of Match Education’s* charter schools employs a large corps of tutors in addition to employing traditional teachers. This highly selective group of recent college grads provides each student with two hours of intensive tutoring a day. These tutors do not have the expertise to manage the complexities of a classroom, but they are smart and hardworking, not to mention inexpensive. They focus on building deep and supportive relationships and providing customized supports to their students. They also take on administrative responsibilities, such as scoring assessments and entering grades. This frees up the teachers to focus on classroom instruction and curriculum design—the jobs they are best suited to fill.

The theory behind this approach is similar to what has motivated the development of true blended-learning schools. Advancements in hardware, educational software, and internet speed are enabling classrooms all over the country to rethink how they meet the primary Jobs To Be Done for schools. Rocketship Education uses Learning Labs as a core part of its model. Students spend 100 minutes a day in front of a computer in a lab using educational software. A lab might fit 100 computers allowing that many students to work at a single time, supervised by five aides who ensure students stay on task and troubleshoot technical problems. The Learning Lab and the aides who staff it fill several jobs: provide repetitive practice exercises, deliver customized diagnostics, and supervise a large number of students at a low cost. This frees up teachers to focus on high quality instruction, curriculum development, and collaboration with their peers. The model allows Rocketship to hire fewer teachers and pay them 20 percent more than peer teachers because the costs of each JBTD is disaggregated, and the less valuable parts of the job are picked up by the less skilled aides at lower prices.

Match Education’s next school will also add technology to its product mix. Slated to open in 2014, the new school will use teachers, tutors, and technology to create a new kind of blended classroom, by unbundling the jobs traditionally done solely by teachers and redistributing them to yield more impact for the resources used. The school will harness the power of these unique products to fundamentally change the instructional model and build a fully student-centric learning environment.

By refining, clarifying, and unbundling jobs with tutors and technology, schools like Match and Rocketship represent a tremendous opportunity to redesign and elevate the teaching profession and build better schools for our students.


*Match Education is an innovative non-profit based in Boston that manages charter schools, trains teachers, and delivers programs and services to other non-profits and school districts. Meredith Liu is the CFO at Match Education.


  • Meredith Liu
    Meredith Liu