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Study ranks county schools among most productive in NC

Assistant Principal Melisa Nance welcomes Keelie Adams and her son Kayden, 5, to G.E. Massey Elementary School on the first day of school.

Assistant Principal Melisa Nance welcomes Keelie Adams and her son Kayden, 5, to G.E. Massey Elementary School on the first day of school.

ELIZABETH HEFFNER
Staff Writer

A new study shows that Lincoln County Schools is among the most productive school districts in the state.
The Center for American Progress, a nonpartisan research and educational institute, released the study “Return on Educational Investment: 2014” in July, its second study focusing on educational productivity, defined as a way “to measure the relative return on investment (ROI) for schools and school districts.”
In his study, Ulrich Boser, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, said the study’s focus is not on how much money is spent on public education, but rather how it is spent.
The Center for American Progress released its first study in 2011, the first-ever attempt to evaluate the productivity of school districts across the country. To do so, the project developed 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 as the cost of living and students living in poverty.”
For this study, the lower the ROI score, the higher the productivity, with districts that scored a “1” having the highest achievement and lowest spending, while districts that earned a “6” having the lowest achievement and highest spending. The “Achievement Index” is used to represent “the percentage of students who score proficient or above on reading and math tests given to students in fourth grade, eighth grade and high school during the 2010-2011 school year. The average per pupil expenditures is also stated in the study.
Lincoln County Schools was among 13 of the state’s 115 school districts to receive a “1” for its basic return on investment, with an achievement ranking of 82 and a $7,907 per pupil expenditure. Surrounding school districts, such as Catawba County Schools, Cleveland County Schools and Gaston County Schools, all received an ROI score of 2.
“I am very proud of our school system,” Lincoln County Board of Education Chair Candy Burgin said. “We have worked hard to revise policies and reduce spending in the areas that are most needed. Every employee of Lincoln County Schools plays a vital role in this district’s success, and that is what is needed for all the students’ success.”
Catawba County Schools scored a 79 on its achievement index, with a $7,463 per pupil expenditure, while Cleveland County Schools scored an 80 for its achievement index, with an $8,705 per pupil expenditure. Gaston County Schools scored a 75 for its achievement index, with a $7,592 per pupil expenditure.
As a state, 65 of North Carolina’s school districts received an ROI ranking of 1, 2 or 3, with the remaining 50 districts scoring a 4, 5, or 6.
In the study’s conclusion, Boser said that highly inefficient districts exist in almost every state across the nation, with well over a million students enrolled in low-productivity districts. He stressed that the issue is not that districts are “necessarily wasting money on their education efforts,” but rather that many districts are utilizing taxpayer money “in ways that do not appear to dramatically boost reading and math scores, and some districts are able to gain similar levels of reading and math achievement with the same population of students but at lower levels of per student spending.” In order to combat these issues, Boser suggests the following:
• States should build capacity for great productivity gains through benchmarking, targeted grants and assisted teams.
• Education leaders should improve accounting procedures and create a multi-state initiative that will focus on building more robust education budgets.
• States and districts should encourage smarter, fairer approaches to school funding such as student-based funding policies.
Those interested in more information about this study and the Center for American Progress should visit http://www.americanprogress.org/ and search “Return on Educational Investment: 2014.”

Image courtesy of Jaclyn Anthony / Lincoln Times-News

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