Return on Educational Investment: A District-by-District Evaluation of U.S. Educational Productivity
Perilous economic times—and the inevitable budget cuts that accompany them—beg for solid research on education productivity. This remarkably comprehensive report from the Center for American Progress gives states and districts strong quantitative ammunition in the education efficiency debate. In it, CAP evaluates the productivity of more than 9,000 districts in forty-five states according to three different return-on-investment (ROI) measures. To determine these, analysts used two measures: an achievement index (based on average proficiency scores on state assessments) and spending data (from the 2008 school year reported by NCES). Via the ROI models, CAP identified districts within states with low, medium, and high productivity levels (e.g., high achieving districts with low costs are “high ROI”). Each measure of ROI (basic, adjusted, and predicted efficiency) has its advantages and disadvantages; but all are methodologically sound. That said, there are important limitations to the study, including unreported—and potentially arbitrary—productivity-level cut scores and a host of potential confounding variables which currently cannot be systematically collected. As for the top-line findings: Analysts found, not surprisingly, that no clear relationship between spending and achievement existed in more than half of the studied states, even after adjusting for student and demographic variables. Further, the least efficient districts were more likely to spend more, especially on administration. Finally, the study’s author estimates that low productivity is costing the nation’s school systems up to $175 billion per year. This would be a fantastic call-to-arms, but this ambitious study stops short when it comes to fully disclosing results: It identifies by name neither the most nor the least efficient districts (of the latter, we’re told there are 400). It conducts a supplementary examination of urban districts that participate in NAEP but then tells us precious little about it. And it includes a nifty accompanying website but not a summary of the three ROI measures or a ranking of the districts in it. If we’re going for transparency around district spending—and looking for ways to improve said spending—shouldn’t we, at a minimum, call out the exemplars? Texas recently did; others should too.
Ulrich Boser, “Return on Educational Investment: A District-by-District Evaluation of U.S. Educational Productivity,” (Washington, D.C.: Center for American Progress, January 2011).
blog comments powered by Disqus