Best bang for the buck?

Someone posted to some of my local email lists this Forbes article on best and worst school districts for the money.  Our old district, Alexandria, VA, ranked last on their list.  John Porter, who got promoted out of being HS principal into an administrative position (one of my pet peeves about the district) is quoted blaming the poor graduation rates on the large number of foreign-born students.

I’m somewhat skeptical about the methodology of the article (I don’t get why they only looked at the districts where most school funding comes from property taxes, and they admit that the graduation rate statistics are inconsistently reported).  It would be interesting to look at the demographics of the top ranked districts, which I suspect are generally quite affluent.  And Forbes almost certainly has an ax to grind.

But as we’ve discussed here before, I do think that Alexandria is probably not getting performance consistent with the spending levels.  Montgomery County certainly serves plenty of immigrants, and is ranked #5 on the Forbes list.

6 Responses to “Best bang for the buck?”

  1. Lee Says:

    I find this list irrelevant to where I live. My school district is divided between Collin County (#2) and Dallas County (#85).

  2. bj Says:

    As far as I can tell, a totally worthless report where someone jiggered statistics to get the outcome they wanted. That’s not to say that the bottom-line conclusion (money isn’t the “only” or “most important” factor affecting graduation rates & test scores) is incorrect. But, the statistics are clearly flawed for all the reasons you mention.
    My district isn’t there. I presume it’s missing because we do not fund our schools through property taxes. Why did they select the highest tax rate districts?
    My bottom line is that other things clearly matter (and I am coming to realize how important school principals are in a way that I had simply not realized). But, I think the most important thing is who you are educating, and the fact is that educating some groups of children costs more than educating others. We admit that’s the case for special needs children, but lack of english language skills, a traumatic home environments, poverty, undiagnosed learning disabilities, an unenriched home are also “special needs” that require compensatory t at schls. And those compensatory services cost something.
    I think analysis like ones Forbe’s is doing merely point out how selected the incoming population to the school district is. For example, in our districts (where funding comes centrally), are the districts whose boundaries are drawn to have the smallest number of “special needs” students. (for example, an island community that has no apartment complexes). I think their statistic uncovers those boundaries.

  3. K Says:

    The problem with these kinds of rankings is that some districts have kids who are more expensive to educate.
    We live in Madison, WI. (unranked by Forbes) The Madison city school district has a very high cost-per-pupil. The suburbs do not. Yet the suburbs have higher test scores and graduation rates.
    Why? The city schools have a much more complicated student body. My daughter’s elementary school has a 66% poverty rate and a very high population of Hmong immigrants. It costs more to educate children who don’t speak English or who can’t afford breakfast at home.
    Evidently, any logical chart-reading parent would move to the suburbs. Higher test scores! lower spending! (along with a 99.9% white and middle class student population.)
    Luckily for my daughter, we don’t put much weight in group test scores. She is getting an amazing education where she is.
    Although, I’m a product of the Fairfax County education system, myself. That one did make the ranking.

  4. MargaretinNJ Says:

    You are quite right about these districts. All the ones I recognize are well-to-do suburbs. The California ones go from Marin and Napa (north of San Francisco) to San Mateo and Santa Clara (south of San Francisco and into Silicon Valley). I recognize several counties as prosperous suburbs of NYC: Bergen County, NJ, Nassau County and Westchester County, NY, and Fairfield County, CT. Some of the other NJ counties are in the middle of the state, known to some of us as “pharm country” for the multinational pharmaceutical companies based there–Morris and Somerset, in particular. And Hunterdon County, NJ is wealthy–Christy Whitman and Steve Forbes are from Hunterdon, and I think Jackie O. had an estate there so she could go fox hunting. The counties surrounding Washington DC are there: Alexandria and Fairfax, VA, and Montgomery County MD. How much do you want to bet that the Illinois counties are all around Chicago?
    It’s funny to me that they are using these statistics to argue that money doesn’t matter. All this shows is that if the kids come from families with lots of money, you don’t have to spend so much in the schools. BFD.

  5. dave.s. Says:

    There’s a real evergreen journalistic cliche story – some kid, usually African-American, has gotten into big trouble, or gotten shot by other drug dealers, or otherwise gone off the rails, and there is a sympathetic profile of his heartbroken and hardworking and virtuous parents, and the reporter puts in the phrase ‘the pull of the streets was too strong’.. I think I’ve seen twenty or thirty stories like this in my years of reading the Boston Globe and now the WaPo. So what the Hell does this mean?
    I think it’s worthwhile to think about the books Judith Rich Harris has written. A broad caricature of her stuff is that our children acquire their personality traits and attitudes in part from their heredity and in huge part from the kids around them, and that parents can have only minor effects at the margins. Ouch! All those stories read, all that quality time at the zoo, and it’s swamped by Rocco in the third grade? I remember how discouraging I found it when #2 came back from day care singing (James taught him this) ‘girls go to Jupiter to get more stupider’… Another story: I came home from kindergarten having learned the counting rhyme: eenie meenie miney moe, catch a nigger by the toe, if he hollers let him go eenie meenie miney moe. And my mother said, ‘it’s TIGER, dear’. And all the other mothers in Berkeley said, ‘it’s TIGER, dear’. And after a while, it was tiger at school, too (doesn’t make any damn sense. Tigers don’t have toes, they have claws. And they don’t holler to get let go, they eat you and go where they please. But all the moms said it was tiger, so tiger it was).
    Where am I going with this? Kids are going to pick up their attitudes in school. A lot. I believe – I have to believe, damnit! – that there is some value to taking the kids to the zoo and talking about what we think is honorable action, and reading stories. But will or nil, you are going to get kids who are a whole lot like the kids with whom they spend time. And if the culture in their schools is unwholesome, and not academic knowledge oriented, that’s what’s going to give you a lot of your children’s attitudes. If it’s more palatable, think, Hillary Clinton’s ‘village’. The control which parochial schools, the KIPP schools, the successful voucher schools, etc. exert on the culture of their students then would be an enormous factor in their greater academic success with less money. All the moms together could make it, ‘tiger’. ‘Tiger’ is a GOOD thing, but it wasn’t something my mom could have sold me on all by herself.

  6. dave.s. Says:

    I thought some more about this: I said it’s partly that the control which parochial schools, the KIPP schools, charters, the successful voucher schools, etc. exert on the culture of their students then would be an enormous factor in their greater academic success with less money. I want to add also, though, everyone in a ‘choice’ school was there because his her parents wanted it. In the NYC study where charter school kids did better than the random lotteried out kids who didn’t get in and were mixed back in with children of parents who had not made that choice, those kids didn’t have a group where everyone’s parent had made a choice. This is sort of an ‘I read a book’ post, and the book is Phenomenon of Man by de Chardin – the idea is that there are emergent properties of groups, group culture, which will occur when all the kids are from families willing to make at least the step of trying to get out of the failing schools to which they would otherwise be sent.
    How do you do that for the kids in Alexandria schools where the parents have NOT tried to make that kind of a choice? I assume that nuns with rulers are not on offer any more. I don’t know, but most of the things I have read about which seem to be working involve a more coercive and group-based (as opposed to an individual-rights-based) educational process than the typical urban school. Kids will always push the edge of the envelope, but if it’s smaller maybe they stay closer to the center.

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