I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Your Useless Study of the Week!

Bruce Baker looks deeper than I did at the CAP's study of district-by-district "productivity":
This type of analysis is an impossible task, especially across all states and dealing with vastly different student outcome data as well as widely varied cost structures. Only precise state by state analysis can yield more useful information of this type. A really important lesson one has to learn when working with data of this type is to realize when the original idea just doesn’t work. I’ve been there a lot myself, even trying this very activity on more than one occasion. There comes a point where you have to drop it and move on. Sometimes you just can’t make it do what you want it to. And sometimes what you want it to do is wrong to begin with. Releasing bad information can be very damaging, especially information of this type in the current political context.
But even more disconcerting, releasing bad data, acknowledging many of the relevant caveats, but then drawing bold and unsubstantiated conclusions that fuel the fire… that endorse slashing funds to high need districts and the children they serve – on a deeply flawed and biased empirical basis – is downright irresponsible.

ADDING: A personal note:
Historically, Pennsylvania has operated one of the least equitable, most regressive state school finance formulas in the nation (www.schoolfundingfairness.org). Philadelphia has been one of the least well funded large poor urban core districts in the nation. Strangely, Pittsburgh has made out much better financially. Here’s what happens when we identify the locations of a few Pennsylvania school districts in the CAP ROI interactive tool. I’ve recreated the locations of 4 districts. The location of Philadelphia actually makes some sense on the basic ROI. Philly is royally screwed. Low funding and low outcomes. The implication of the orange shading seems problematic. But if we ponder the meaning of the lower left quadrant it all makes sense. Now, I’m not sure Pittsburgh is really overfunded and/or inefficient, as implied by being in the lower right quadrant – but at least relative to Philadelphia, it does make sense that Pittsburgh falls to the right of Philadelphia on the scatterplot. Lower Merion, an affluent high spending suburb of Philly seems to be in the right place too. I’m not sure, however, what to make of any of the districts, including affluent suburban Central Bucks, which fall in the upper left – the Superstars.
One thought, as a former student of the Central Bucks area: school size. Lower Merion HS has 1,378 kids; the three CB high schools have about 1,500 - 1,800 each and they only serve grades 10-12. Does school size count at this level of difference, or does it have to be more dramatic?

It could be that when you have to supply all the fancy "extras" affluent districts demand - full athletic program in all sports, lots of electives, clubs, full arts program, etc. - you can't get the bang for your buck when you have a smaller population. LMHS has a boys basketball team (perhaps you've heard of a famous alumnus of theirs?); so does CB West. Each will have maybe 24 kids play varsity and JV. But the cost of that program is spread out among more students at CB West. Now think about all the sports and electives and clubs and arts that each school will offer.

And it's my experience that large schools don't offer more opportunities - it's just that kids tend to specialize more. My guess is Lower Merion has more 3-season athletes than CB West. I'll bet you do either chorus or drama at CB West, but probably not both - at least, not as often as occurs at Lower Merion.

Many of the large school experiences are more "intense" because of the specialization: teams play in more competitive conferences, musicals are more lavishly costumed, bands take more trips, etc. We can argue which is better for kids, but I would guess the differences in cost per pupil doesn't rise all that much, as the economies of scale kick in.

Which leads to the other factor: more schools per district could lead to efficiencies as well.

Of course, I could also have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about...

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