Return on Educational Investment: 2014 – A District-by-District Evaluation of U.S. Educational Productivity

Source: Ulrich Boser, Center for American Progress, July 2014

From the summary:
In 2011, the Center of American Progress released the first-ever attempt to evaluate the productivity of almost every major school district in the country. That project developed a set of relatively simple productivity metrics in order to measure the achievement that a school district produces relative to its spending, while controlling for factors outside a district’s control, such the cost of living and students living in poverty.

The findings of that first report were worrisome and underscored the fact that the nation suffers from a productivity crisis. The data suggested that low productivity might cost the nation’s school system billions of dollars a year. What’s more, too few states and districts tracked the bang that they received for their education buck.

In this updated report, CAP uses these same metrics to once again examine the productivity of the nation’s school districts. We embarked on this second evaluation for a number of reasons. In many areas, education leaders continue to face difficult budget choices, and more than 300,000 education-related jobs have been lost since the start of the Great Recession. At the same time, the advent of the new, more rigorous Common Core standards will demand that far more from educators, including better, tougher exams. In short, many educators are being asked to do more with less….

Here is a summary of our most recent findings:
• Low educational productivity remains a deeply pressing problem, with billions of dollars lost in low-capacity districts. …
• Some of the nation’s most affluent school systems show a worrying lack of productivity. …
• In some districts, spending priorities are clearly misplaced. …
• State approaches to improving fiscal effectiveness vary widely. …
• States have failed to make fiscal equity a priority and large funding gaps exist across school districts. …
• State budget practices are often inconsistent and opaque. …

Plus, some state practices are difficult to follow. In Washington state, for instance, school districts are allowed to release two different sets of financial statements. The first set of statements is for the state’s annual financial accounting system. The second set of statements meet a different set of accounting procedures. According to the state, the second set of financial statements are “considered to be ‘special reports’ or ‘supplemental schedules’ and are not basic financial statements.”

This report recommends the following:
• States should build capacity for productivity gains through targeted grants, assistance teams, and performance metrics. …
• Education leaders should improve accounting procedures and create a multistate initiative that will focus on building more robust education budgets. …
• Educators should also improve the quality of fiscal data across states, and the Common Core State Standards Initiative provides an example of how states can work together to create a stronger, more innovative education system. …
• States and districts should encourage smarter, fairer approaches to school funding, such as student-based funding policies. …
Related:
Interactive: What’s the Productivity of Your District?