School Finance

The baseball playoffs started this week in earnest, with the Cincinnati Reds carrying Buckeye State’s hopes for a pennant (next year for sure, Cleveland fans). This year’s playoffs includes teams with varying levels of economic resources—from the high-spending New York Yankees, to the low-spending, upstart Oakland A’s. Yet, all these teams have proven themselves to be successful over the long regular season.

Schools districts, like baseball teams, are similarly endowed with varying amounts of economic resources. And like baseball teams, some districts get a lot for their money—the Oakland A’s of school districts—while others get little for their money. “Efficiency” generally describes whether an organization gets a lot or a little out of the resources they put in.

To look at which schools are more efficient, we use Ohio public school districts’ expenditure per equivalent (EPE) and performance index score (PI). EPE is the district’s input (the money it expends) and PI is the output (what it gets for the money: namely, student achievement). The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) has developed both of these measures.

  • EPE is a weighted per-pupil expenditure that accounts for the higher cost of educating poor, English language learning, and special needs students. ODE reports official EPE data for traditional districts (there is not official, publically-accessible data for charter schools, so they are excluded from this analysis). 
  • PI is a weighted proficiency average, with greater weight given to students who score at higher levels of achievement on the state’s standardized exams.

For the sake...

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1984 in 2012?

Aaron Churchill drops by to explain Ohio’s attendance foibles and debate the merits of another kind of student tracking. Amber asks if super sub-groups are all that super.

Amber's Research Minute

Shining a Light or Fumbling in the Dark? The Effects of NCLB’s Subgroup-Specific Accountability on Student Achievement by Douglas Lee Lauen & S. Michael Gaddis for EEPA

Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) represent the surest way to bring vouchers into the twenty-first century (and help immunize choice programs from Blaine Amendment-based court challenges), argues author Matt Ladner in this informative Friedman Foundation paper. First piloted in Arizona (at a scale much smaller than what Ladner proposes here), ESAs give parents the option to withdraw their children from public or charter schools, deposit the majority of their allotted public dollars into a designated account, and apply that money directly to any number of other academic options—including private schools, online courses, early college options, or even a future college education. With such a funding structure, the study contends, parents will be free to choose K-12 options based on quality and cost, thereby spurring innovation, improving quality, and breaking America of its “education stagnation” and gross achievement gaps. Ladner also explains the legislative safeguards that must be in place for an ESA system to be effective (HSAs and food stamps offer helpful guidance). There is much merit for such a proposed finance system—especially as digital and blended learning models take form. But Ladner’s paper has one overt flaw: Though he trumpets increased equity as a major rationale for ESAs, these calls sound hollow until the paper’s final notes, when the author clarifies that policymakers “can and should vary aid according to individual circumstances and special needs”—that is, that states ought to employ weighted-student funding. The absence...

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The baseball playoffs started this week in earnest, with the Cincinnati Reds carrying Buckeye State’s hopes for a pennant (next year for sure, Cleveland fans). This year’s playoffs includes teams with varying levels of economic resources—from the high-spending New York Yankees, to the low-spending, upstart Oakland A’s. Yet, all these teams have proven themselves to be successful over the long regular season.

Schools districts, like baseball teams, are similarly endowed with varying amounts of economic resources. And like baseball teams, some districts get a lot for their money—the Oakland A’s of school districts—while others get little for their money. “Efficiency” generally describes whether an organization gets a lot or a little out of the resources they put in.

To look at which schools are more efficient, we use Ohio public school districts’ expenditure per equivalent (EPE) and performance index score (PI). EPE is the district’s input (the money it expends) and PI is the output (what it gets for the money: namely, student achievement). The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) has developed both of these measures.

  • EPE is a weighted per-pupil expenditure that accounts for the higher cost of educating poor, English language learning, and special needs students. ODE reports official EPE data for traditional districts (there is not official, publically-accessible data for charter schools, so they are excluded from this analysis).  
  • ...
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The Fall Classic

Mike and Dara analyze the NAACP’s definition of discrimination and grapple with the unpleasant reality that Ohio’s online schools mostly suck. Amber looks at what it takes to exit high school these days.

Amber's Research Minute

Center on Education Policy, State High School Exit Exams: A Policy in Transition (Washington, D.C.: George Washington University Graduate School of Education and Human Development, September 2012)

Last week, the Policy Innovators in Education (PIE) Network brought together its member organizations for its annual confab, this year in Minneapolis. State-based school-reform-advocacy groups gathered with five national policy partners (Fordham included) to talk shop about our work to improve America’s schools.

Among the discussions about policy, strategy, tactics, and lessons learned (especially from Chicago), the most fascinating—and perhaps significant—conversation was about the school-reform agenda itself. What’s currently consuming the education-reform movement? What’s next up on the to-do list? And what potentially game-changing item is on the horizon? Allow me to report.

Dawn moment
What's on the horizon for education reform ?
Photo by Thelonius58.

The first point (and perhaps an obvious one) is that reformers nationwide are deep in implementation mode. Thanks to huge state-level policy victories on common standards, teacher evaluations, school choice, and more (some of it inspired by the federal Race to the Top program), much focus has shifted to getting stuff done at the local level. That’s led some to call for a breather when it comes to new legislative activity. Like a snake that’s just swallowed a deer, most reformers (and the education system itself) simply can’t take anything else on right now.

But that’s not the case everywhere. In some states, the 2013 legislative session...

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The laugh factory

Mike and Rick wonder if there’s still room for ed reformers in the Democratic Party after Chicago. Amber analyzes why American students continue to struggle with the SAT. And Rick makes a few jokes at Karen Lewis’s expense.

Amber's Research Minute

The SAT Report on College & Career Readiness: 2012 - The College Board Download PDF

This Center for American Progress report spotlights “often-overlooked features of school funding systems” that aggravate inequities in per-pupil spending, leaving students in wealthier districts with more edu-dollars than those in needier locales. In Part I of the report, Rutgers professor Bruce Baker offers a succinct primer on state aid formulas, and then details how the formulas of six states (Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas) have created especially "regressive" funding patterns. (In New York, for example, 0 percent poverty districts receive about $2,000 more per pupil than those with a 30 percent poverty rate.) In Part II, NYU’s Sean Corcoran highlights how local-revenue structures—mainly property taxes—worsen such inequities. (Federal Title I dollars, the authors argue, do little to offset the progressive or regressive nature of states’ school-finance systems.) The report helpfully unpacks an important and complicated issue, but its recommendations for change are disappointing. Baker and Corcoran acknowledge that ensuring funding equity must be done at the state level, but they offer few concrete steps for their case-study states to reach this aim. States searching for such a step would be wise to read up on weighted-student funding.

SOURCE: Bruce D. Baker and Sean P. Corcoran, The Stealth Inequities of School Funding: How State and Local Finance Systems Perpetuate Inequitable Student Spending (Washington, D.C.: Center for American Progress, September 2012)....

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A college political science professor of mine once used this analogy to understand politicians: “There are two types of politicians: the ‘show ponies’ and the ‘workhorses.’” The show ponies, he would say, are politicians who love—and seek—the limelight. They’re the Fox News politicians. The workhorses, in contrast, are the politicians who memorize an assembly’s rules and grind away at legislative writing.

The Windy City is the moment’s education show pony. The drama of Chicago’s teachers’ strike, chalk-full of a furious teacher’s union, the tough-talking mayor Rahm Emmanuel, and the veil of presidential politics have shone the spotlight on Chicago. For four days during the week of September 11 to 17 the strike made the front page of The New York Times. As theatrical show—yes, with some substance to boot—one cannot get much better than Chicago, September 2012. (Since this original publication of this article, the strike has ended.)

While the show’s been going on in Chicago, the workhorses of Ohio continue to plow ahead. In Dayton, education leaders are working toward higher quality charter schools, are implementing blended learning models into their classrooms, and are worrying about a fair and efficient school funding plan. In a Sunday news article, the Dayton Daily News highlighted the DECA charter schools, which includes a newly-opened elementary school (sponsored by Fordham) and a high school. DECA serves mostly economically-disadvantaged students from inner-city Dayton; yet, despite this challenge, the school received the state’s highest rating, “Excellent with Distinction” (A+), on its 2010-11 report card—the last year ratings...

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It is hard to argue with the conclusions drawn by Kristen De Peña of State Budget Solutions in her new report Throwing Money at Education Isn't Working. The provocative title says it all and the analysis is there to back it up. From Arkansas (high spending, split performance) to Texas (high spending, low performance), and from Nevada (average spending, low performance) to Vermont (high spending, high performance) the report notes that higher levels of funding do not necessarily ensure better outcomes for students.

We can of course always question the methodology. While the ACT test is administered in all 50 states, only 27 states test more than 50 percent of high school graduates. So is it fair to compare states like Pennsylvania, where only 18 percent of high school grads take the ACT (most take the SAT) to states like Ohio where 71 percent of high school grads take the ACT? That’s not exactly an apples to apples comparison of student performance across the nation.  The same is true for graduation rates, the other academic performance indicator the author uses. The author herself concedes that comparing graduation rates is very difficult from state to state despite efforts within NCLB reforms to unify that reporting nationwide.

However, when the author looks deeper into specific states and spending versus achievement, many of these smaller objections fall away and illustrate the title in clear relief: More money does not equal more achievement. The report goes on to offer several suggestions for...

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