"The Center for American Progress rated districts of all sizes nationally using data from the 2007-2008 school year, and rated LCPS among the top-performing school districts for efficiency & results. I'll have more details in a future post."
We do need those details. When I read the report in January I was struck most by this statement:
"Our nation’s school system has for too long failed to ensure that education funding consistently promotes strong student achievement. After adjusting for inflation, education spending per student has nearly tripled over the past four decades. But while some states and districts have spent their additional dollars wisely—and thus shown significant increases in student outcomes—overall student achievement has largely remained flat. And besides Luxembourg, the United States spends more per student than any of the 65 countries that participated in a recent international reading assessment, and while Estonia and Poland scored at the same level as the United States on the exam, the United States spent roughly $60,000 more to educate each student to age 15 than either nation."Yes, LCPS appears to do better at providing a return on investment than many schools in Virginia, but it is by no means a leader; it is pretty much in the middle of the pack. For instance, locally, the report lists Fauquier, Clarke, Prince William, and Stafford counties as providing a significantly stronger education ROI to its taxpayers. More importantly, it's hard to miss the Center's overall condemnation of public schools' efforts at efficiency and ROI. Loudoun is in the middle of a not-so-well rated pack.
Bear with me a minute, and take the time to read the report's thesis, something I think we should keep in mind when citing the report--
"When successful businesses want to improve performance and boost efficiencies, they focus on creating the conditions for organizational change. They use data to identify problem areas, create short and long-term goals, and engage their employees to sustain transformations and nurture further innovation. Such approaches have long worked for the private sector, and there’s clear evidence that the techniques can help drive better performance in large, public organizations as well.
"But schools and districts have long been effective at deflecting or watering down meaningful change in order to protect entrenched bureaucracies and interests. And even reform-minded school administrators often confuse merely novel techniques with successful ones and dash from one educational fad to the next without tracking their efficacy. To increase productivity, school leaders will need to fundamentally reinvent the way that they do business and create an outcomes-based school culture that sets high goals—and gives employees the strategies to achieve them.
"That will entail doing away with obsolete traditions and ineffective programs, to be sure. But it will also require schools and districts to embrace transformational ways of delivering a cost-effective education that reduces spending while boosting performance. The goal must be nothing short of a breakthrough in performance that guarantees that every dollar produces high achievement for all students."
"LCPS has become more efficient, reducing the ratio of non-school-based positions from 10.0 per 1,000 students to 9.2 per 1,000 students. Our proposed FY12 budget, has a higher share of school-based employees than any other NoVA district."
My concern with this statement is two-fold: (1) A simple math calculation seems to show that this change could primarily be the result of not hiring more staff during the past couple years as student population grew; and (2) while that might result in greater efficiencies, this is an awfully narrow definition of efficiency, and just saying that we did more with less doesn't mean our processes became more efficient.
In fact, it could be argued it was the voters who limited the past few budgets who achieved this "efficiency," not just LCPS. But again, this doesn't prove LCPS is more efficient; it could be that it is only as efficient as it was two years ago, but being so with less staff. This statement begs more support than just a simple math calculation. I'm definitely interested in hearing more on this.
"School lunch subsidies have dropped from $900,000 to $0. Lunch prices have climbed from $2.10 to $3.00"
My first thought may seem a non sequitur, that the $900,000 is close to the amount LCPS is not going to collect in AP Exam fees next year (an amount that had to have been in the first budget drafts). Factor in that we will likely have to refund the $900k from this year, and possibly the $900k from last year, that lunch subsidy savings doesn't look all that significant. I'm almost afraid to ask how seriously the AP and Honors courses grade weighting committee considered the legality of these fees a couple years ago?
This raises another question about what we mean by efficiency: How is shifting the revenue collection method from one path to another necessarily an indicator of cost savings and process improvement? Chairperson Stevens may be saying that the total costs of school lunches decreased, but the juxtaposition of the subsidy elimination with a statement that families pay more for each lunch can lead us to believe that there is a relationship between the two statements. Loudoun families could still be paying the same amount for lunches, so where's the savings, where's the efficiency? Whether the funds come out of our property taxes or our wallets each morning makes no difference here. I could be wrong, so let's get more context.
"Average class sizes have increased."
Please show me the scientific research that supports the idea that class size has a significant impact on classroom learning when compared to other factors also within the control of LCPS (other than NEA assertions). Period.
"The average Loudoun tax bill has dropped from $5,307 to $5,244 at the proposed tax rate of $1.32"
Another simple math calculation shows this drop is barely %1. I'm concerned that property owners who have seen their homes devalued in the double-digit percent amounts aren't going to buy this as a reason to support the proposed budget.
Statistics are important, but so is context. Let's get some more.