Sunday, January 23, 2011

New study evaluates school system productivity nationwide

A new study on educational spending sponsored by the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, suggests that strong ties within the broader community can prompt some schools to produce better results than others, given the same amount of funding. The new report examined student performance in 9,000 school districts that teach 85 percent of America's K-12 students resulting some interesting findings:

A few of the study's most significant findings:

• The least-productive districts across the nation spend 3 percent more of their budgets on administration and operations than better-performing districts.

• Poor students are more likely than wealthier ones to be attending an unproductive school district. More than a million students overall are attending schools the study labeled as unproductive.

• More spending -- above a certain threshold -- does not guarantee higher productivity. More than half the school districts in the study showed no relationship between the amount of money spent and student achievement. For example, two very similar school districts of about 10,000 each in Wisconsin produced students with virtually the same average test scores. But one district, Eau Claire, spent about $800 million more than Oshkosh did.

• Especially productive school districts appear to share some traits, according to the study's authors. These districts were often located in "supportive communities" and spent about 3 percent more of their budget on instructional costs -- e.g., teacher salaries, curriculum materials -- than lower-performing districts did.

Here are some more interesting traits found in successful districts:

Strong community relations
Many of the highly productive districts worked closely with their communities to help maximize education spending.

A willingness to make tough choices
Reducing spending while maintaining strong outcomes takes fiscal acumen, political savvy, and a willingness to make hard choices.

A priority on quality instruction
The country’s highly productive districts devoted 3 percentage points more of their budget to instructional costs than did the least efficient districts.

Smart use of data
Most of the highly productive districts reported having sophisticated data systems that provided detailed information on a variety of school outcomes, from parent satisfaction to student success in college.

This year-long study is chock full of much more information. To read about it and download the report visit the link below found at the Center for American Progress website.

Return on Educational Investment
A District-by-District Evaluation of U.S. Educational Productivity

Interactive Map: Check out DeKalb County's ROI here


Anonymous said...

This is great stuff, Cere.

It will take a while to go through, but one thing I immediately picked up on was that Atlanta, Warren, Clayton and DeKalb, all systems with significant issues with SACS right now, are in the bottom half of Return on INvestment.

Anon said...

I think the Eau Claire example is a typo because in the report it says 8 million not 800 million.

Anon said...

From the report:

Should the United States spend less on public education?

Our emphasis on educational productivity does not mean that we believe that lawmakers should spend less on education. Quite the opposite. Transforming our schools will demand both real resources and real reform, and our project is an argument for dramatically improving our nation’s school system so that dollars
create results.

Anon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anon said...

This is our problem in DeKalb, while we have a very challenging student population to educate, we could certainly be doing better by those kids.

We need a stronger school system. We need a terrific, top notch superintendent, one who isn't afraid to make tough decisions without asking for parental input.

Can we find that person and then can parents live with that person?

Anonymous said...

@ Anon DCSS needs to be spending most dollars that it spends in a better way. It's not that DCSS isn't spending enough money, is that it wastes more money on jobs, computer programs, technology without upkeep, high paying salaries for unqualified people, not putting the best person that can be found in the position, but a friend or a family member, etc.

A current DCSS administrator or long standing school board member will read the quote at 8:42 and say, see we need to raise taxes and spend more money. This could be further from the truth, as spending more money to a typical DCSS employee means, more jobs for the palace and higher salaries all around with a change in job title, but not necessarily description. Our children are always put last.

Anonymous said...

I say it's a priority thing. If you flattened administration to just a "core": super, CFO, HR, purchasing, and maybe a half dozen critical others and had principals in charge of schoolhouses and let teachers teach and pricipals able to fire non-performing teachers and assistant principals; and someone able to fire non-perfomring principals that weren't producing performing schools...; remove all the inane paperwork required by all the mid-level managment; we might then get somewhere. Highest pay, other than superintendant, for principals, followed by teachers. Teachers paid more for national teacher certification and masters/Ph.D. in actual core subject areas (math, english, science, history). (I'm a parent)

Anonymous said...


Your idea would work if the best and brightest were in our principal jobs now. However, too many principals, APs have gotten their jobs on who they know and not what they know. The only way for your idea to work is for all principals to have to re-interview for their job and the superintendent would pick who he/she wants to keep if any.

Anonymous said...

I'm all for that: I want qualified folks in all positions across the board --

DCSS Teacher said...

Thank you so much for keeping your ear to the ground on data--the only way to figure out what might "work" in DCSS.

The recurrent theme of how important community support is, reinforces support for NOT busing kids all over the county but, rather, working hard to improve their local schools. Busing is another way of saying, we simply can't improve poorly-performing schools.

But to do that, incentives need to be put in place for ALL concerned so that they will feel empowered to help students who start the year several grade levels behind where they should be. The incentives can be higher salaries for teachers and paras (yes, we DO like to get paid more for tackling overwhelming jobs), but of equal importance: good leadership by experienced administrators; a well-trained, experienced, not-overworked counseling support team; incentives for parents who have too long been left out of the loop and have lost their voices; and, even, an adequate budget for teaching supplies, equipment (for science catch-up), and, even maybe some pizza as an after-school incentive to get students to come in for help.

Whatever works. We've gotta do it.

Bif said...

The most telling part of the study is the Predicted ROI (takes into account adjusted spending and poverty levels and compares it to similar schools). Unfortunately, the ROI for Dekalb schools is predicted to be low and in fact the ROI score is low.

There are "outliers" in Georgia: APS did worse than predicted, Decatur City schools did better than predicted and Cobb did better than predicted.

DCSS has a relatively low income student population with medium to low adjusted spending per student. Decatur City schools spends over $3,000 more per student ($7,365 vs $10,564), less poverty (66% vs 30% low income) and a higher achievement index score (80 vs 90).

Having said the above, many school systems do better than predicted and there is no reason why DCSS shouldn't exceed the predicted results.

Anonymous said...




Anonymous said...

As businesses I have seen so many schools that lack the capacity to think on their feet. This extends from quick decision to long range plans. Technology has fared the worse under this type of management. Millions are spent up and down the line without ever considering if the technology be implemented and if it is ever used will it make a difference. I have also seen procrastination on budgetary spending and have been told on more than one occasion that I have to spend thousands of dollars on technology or media by the end of the day. Some plans are made taking up many hours of educators time then routinely ignored. The School Improvement Plans are evidence of this practice. Government run entities by their nature tend to get bogged down in attempting making anything happen but public schools are the worst. I fear it may be in their DNA.

Private school guy said...

Keep in mind administering federal programs causes systems to hire more non teaching staff. It's like shopping with coupons. When you are using so many coupons at the store that you need to hire an assistant to keep track of them you end up spending more money than you save.

Kim Gokce said...

"Can we find that person and then can parents live with that person?"

The issue isn't whether parents can live with that person it is whether the BoE has the stones to support good decisions even when parents cry bloody murder.

Anon 10:15am "Highest pay, other than superintendent, for principals, followed by teachers. "

Amen! I've floated this idea of re-aligning pay centered on our school houses last year and didn't get a lot of traction. Nancy Jester seemed to like the idea but no one else really picked up on it.

My spin on it was as a way to ensure that the "career path" that the Central Office offers goes away to the degree possible. If the highest paid personnel are in the schools, then we can have this culture develop to attract and retain teachers and good school leaders.

I went farther saying that the principals' pay should be no higher than the highest paid teachers in the system and the highest paid worker not in a school should not earn more than the highest paid principal - including the super! In essence, I am arguing that teachers pay scale and earnings potential for leaders should be as desirable, if not more so, in the school as it is in central office functions. This is the norm in many business areas I have seen - managers don't necessarily make more than their direct reports.

Many of the resources that are assigned to projects I manage make more than I do. This is the way it should be in our public schools - put our money closest to the core objectives. I think spending money on leadership in the schools is HANDS DOWN MORE IMPORTANT than spending money on leadership outside the schools.

Anonymous said...

Decatur City actually did not have the highest return on investment. I suspect that this is in part because of GA's funding formula. Having so few middle and high school students, means that local dollars have to be increased to fund the basics.

Anonymous said...

"Decatur City actually did not have the highest return on investment. "

What is your return in education for tax dollars spent? Student achievement - i.e. students master the educational content and academic skills they are supposed to master.

Decatur City Schools was the ONLY system close-in to the city of Atlanta that Made AYP this past year. (Other outlying systems that Made AYP were Rockdale, Cherokee, Forsyth, and Marietta City)

Yes. You do pay more property taxes to live in Decatur, but why can so many people not afford to buy a house there? Because the houses there are valued and priced so high.

The high property values in the city of Decatur are in large part because of the school system. If I'm a parent with 2 children looking at houses, do I want to spend more on a house and more on taxes? Not really, but what I really don't want to have to do is spend an extra $20,000 a year after taxes to put my 2 kids in private schools (and that's not even the top tier private schools). Over 13 years per child this adds up to $260,000 for tuition. So it's cheaper to me to pay more for my house and more in taxes - pretty simple math.

Considering that a house is often the biggest investment for middle and upper middle class families, it makes sense that they would want to maximize that investment. NOTHING will maximize your investment in your house like good public schools.

Decatur City Schools has an excellent return on investment with their educational system. They are turning out graduates who have mastered the required academic skills and educational content and they consistently lead the pack of school systems that have easy access to the city of Atlanta. That's what ROI is all about.

Anonymous said...

The shame is that anyone looking at DCSS knows that the kids have the brain power to do better (look at Cross Keys) EXCEPT for the BOE and the current Superintendent. The people who most need to get their ducks in a row are the least motivated and are apparently unconvinced, despite all of the evidence piling up around them, that there is anything amiss. Yes, I do lump Tyson into this group. If she truly got it, she would have made decisions that would have earned her raise ....get rid of the mad paper piper (Beasley) and get down to educational/instructional support....and for goodness sake, when is a decision about the make-up of snow days coming and WHY are we the last to make a decision. THIS is ultimately the biggest issue of the administration of the district, NO ONE IS IN CHARGE. No one is willing to pony up and make decisions for the betterment of our students. (But man - o - man can we get the vote for raises accomplished in short order.)

Anonymous said...

1/23--10:15 and 1:18:
You both have given wonderful reasonable simple ideas that would work ... if only someone would listen.

If someone in authority would listen and see the pitiful waste that is currently DCSS and put an abrupt stop to it ... who would that be??? SACS? Who?

Ella Smith said...

For the average amount of money spent Dekalb County School System is not getting the rate of improvement that the other Atlanta Metro System are getting. There is something really wrong here. Title I schools in the county get a great deal more money and there does not seem to be much if any productivity for the extra money being spent.

The rate of improvement is fairly high in the other metro counties. I think Dekalb County needs to see what the other metro counties are doing. I can tell them what Fulton County is doing. They are using constant data in subject areas of testing in high school as all classes take the same test to determine where achievement is occurring and where it is not. The problem areas or the lack of improvement areas can then be constantly addressed.

Just spending money itself is not the answer. Teachers must be willing to go into a classroom and adjust the learning technique to assure mastery. Too many teachers want to teach the way they want to teach without being willing to change methods in order to meet the needs of the students in their classroom. Fulton is making sure teachers change the way they teach to meet the students needs.

Data does not lie. This data puts the DeKalb County School System in a negative light regarding rate of improvement.

Ella Smith said...

I see rate of improvement as to the improvement of students' test scores. DeKalb appears to be the only county close around not in the green. This looks really bad to me.

That is exactly what all the fuse is in parents fighting to keep their students in the high achieving schools in DeKalb. Many schools are not as high achieving as others and the parents want their students in the best school.

Parents in Dekalb do care about students throughout the county and their overall achievement. However, they care more about their own children as students and the achievement of their own children much more. All parents do.

Anonymous said...

Another story about DCSS and how we get no return on investment. Success for the Central Office staff! Ms. Berry when will you and your army be held accountable? Is there anyone in the DCSS leadership willing to make the tough decisions? NOPE! Not yet! Ms. Tyson please explain to the stakeholders why you're not holding anyone, in the former leadership, accountable for the dismal results that continue to pile up?

DCSS where we celebrate mediocrity and punish success!

Anonymous said...

Dekalb continues to conduct business in the same old way. Paying back favors, allowing inexperienced people to have leadership positions. Recently, Dresden Elementary received a new principal. She came from a school of 350 students to a school of 650 students. Dresden is a Title One school, 90% ESOL population. The new principal has never served in Title One school nor an ESOL school. What was the committee thinking that hired her? Who owed her a favor? This would not happen in the business world unless there is something going behind the scenes. This was not in the best interest of Dresden nor students or parents.