The group’s report creates a productivity index for about 7.000 school districts in 40 states by measuring their student achievement scores against per-pupil expenditures. The idea is to rate the return on investment of each school district within a state, adjusting for differences in things like average income, cost-of-living, special needs, and language barriers that would throw off comparisons.
The report includes an interactive tool that allows users to call up a specific state and compare productivity between districts. In other words, the focus is not on how much money is spent
per student from district to district, but rather on which districts get the biggest “bang for the buck.”
“In education, we don’t talk nearly enough about productivity,” Boser says.
“What we see happening in a lot of schools and districts is on one side of the room folks are talking about student achievement and what they can do to improve outcomes, and on the other side people are talking about financing schools, [whether they’re] equitably funded, where they’re getting their dollars from. And much more needs to be done to focus on productivity. ”
The metric for Ohio shows wide disparities, with most of the state’s urban districts getting the least return on investment.
But some other more affluent districts are also shown to be getting less value relative to the money they spend.
Ulrich concedes the study provides only a rudimentary evaluation of districts’ productivity, , and even that some of its assumptions are debatable. He says states themselves could do a much more thorough analysis, but very few are doing it.
“Ohio, for instance, does not do any productivity rating of its schools itself, does not offer any tools that are directly related to giving district leaders, empowering them with capacity, with training to build productivity. And that data is out there,” he says.
“We wanted to put something together that would start this conversation.”
Because of the large differences in the types and amounts of data available from state to state, the study does not compare or rank states as a whole for productivity.