Sunday, December 26, 2010
study relates school spending to student academic achievement
20 Best Practices identified
Special to The Monitor
AUSTIN-Public school spending per student has increased by 63 percent during the last 10 years, outpacing both enrollment growth and inflation. With a budget-cutting session of the Texas Legislature approaching, and school districts under pressure to do more with less, a new report by Texas Comptroller Susan Combs could help trim school spending without sacrificing educational quality.
Connecting the Dots: School Spending and Student Progress identifies Texas school districts that achieve strong student performance while keeping spending growth to a minimum. The report and a companion website provide a unique analysis of public education spending and academic results, allowing lawmakers and school districts to compare similar public and charter schools across the state, identifying efficiencies and make substantive improvements to get the most value for the dollars spent.
We all want students to excel academically, and it takes a certain amount of spending to realize that goal, but what is the right amount? Combs asked. We need to fully understand the relationship between student progress and spending.
The 2009 Legislature directed the Comptrollers Office to develop a method to compare school districts on a level playing field and to determine which districts and campuses allocate their financial resources in a manner that contributes to high academic achievement and cost-effective operations.
In a state as large and diverse as Texas, drawing apples-to-apples comparisons is no easy task, Combs said.
Our school districts vary greatly in geographic size, student population, demographics and costs. Many factors influence student learning, including factors both in and outside school.
Similarly, the cost of education is influenced by many factors, some beyond the district control, she said.
Drawing upon data from the Texas Education Agency and the Texas Schools Project of the University of Texas, as well as the expertise of UT-Dallas, UT-Austin, Texas A&M University and Texas educators, the Comptroller created the Financial Allocation Study for Texas (FAST).
The methodology is a first-of-its-kind system that ensures fair and unbiased comparisons of school districts and campuses. Experts, both in and out of the state, reviewed the project to validate its methods and findings.
What we created is a new kind of report that uses a unique rating system to balance student progress against school spending in an unbiased fashion, Combs said. FAST includes controls for the diverse range of students and the varying educational costs in Texas school districts, resulting in realistic and useful comparisons.
How it works
Each school district and campus, including charter schools, is assigned ratings based on the following:
Student progress in reading and math, measured using a value-added model with controls for the varying characteristics of students, campuses and districts.
Spending, from very low to very high, compared to up to 40 peer districts that operate in similar cost environments, are similar in size and students.
The integration of academic progress and spending to identify districts that produce strong academic growth at a lower cost than their peers. Using a one- to five-star rating with one star assigned to schools with least academic progress and highest level of spending per student. As applied FAST identified only 43 of the 1,235 school districts and charter schools analyzed as worthy of the five-star rating, measuring highest levels of academic progress on the lowest level of spending per student.
The ratings do not judge the relative value of spending versus academic progress, Combs explained. Different schools have different priorities and constraints. Online tools also allow comparisons among peer districts using different lenses such as dropout rates, transportation spending or math scores. No other report offers the same level of detail.
Connecting the Dots includes a compilation of Smart Practices that provide blueprints for improving school operations, gathered by studying five-star school districts and charter schools and consulting with education experts. Smart Practices include innovations in facilities, business services, staffing, technology and student services.
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