My husband is a Sony fan. He has strong preferences following many years of selling consumer electronics. I personally have not been such a careful student of the variances between brands of stereos, TVs and DVD players. However, my marriage has taught me (among other things) Sony’s products are more dependable, last longer and are at least as aesthetically pleasing as comparable products. Because I expect it to be better, I expect to pay more for a Sony TV than for the similar Akai sitting next to it.
The Boise School District pays a Sony-like premium to produce its product – educated students – when compared to its neighbor immediately to the west, the Meridian School District. The Boise School District’s revenue for 2007 – 2008 (the most recent year for which both budget numbers and test scores are available) was $243,006,247 with 24,990 students enrolled. That is an input of $9,884 per student. During those same years the Meridian School District had 32,728 students on the rolls and total revenue of $246,873,438 for input of $7,543 per student.
Patrons of their respective school districts, plus taxpayers of the State of Idaho, plus taxpayers of the United States of America chipped in nearly one-third more per student to educate each child enrolled in the Boise School District than they did for each Meridian School District student.
I’m curious whether the extra money was worth it. Did Boise School District students receive an education that was one-third superior to the education received by Meridian students?
One way to gauge a school district's worth is to measure from year to year how much closer the set consisting of every child in grades 3-8 and 10 gets to reaching “proficiency” (a term of the trade) by the year 2014. This proficiency is the goal of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, which mandates every American schoolchild be above average no later than the year 2014, and it is the information presented by the State in every Idaho School District Profile - click on Region 3.
True 100% proficiency in the normal sense of that word, is, on its face, ludicrous. That’s why states make up their own standards. Each state defines “proficiency” for itself and creates its own test to measure it. Idaho created and uses the Idaho Standards Achievement Test (ISAT).
There is much about the NCLB law to not like, but NCLB and the ISATs do have at least two virtues: they measure outcomes, and they compare all children and all districts in Idaho.
Children in various categories (sex, race, income level, English language proficiency, special education status, etc.) must achieve Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) towards the 100%-proficiency-in-2014 goal for a school district to make overall AYP. Neither Boise nor Meridian made overall AYP, but the Boise School District made AYP in 80% of its categories – and Meridian made it in 90%.
If they read this, representatives from the Boise School District no doubt will wish to point out their district has both a higher percentage and a greater number overall of impoverished and minority students who are difficult to educate and they have more special education students who are expensive.
I concede teaching children with special needs can be expensive, but Boise doesn’t have anything like a third more special education students than Meridian. Nor do they have a third more minority and/or poor students.
Besides, evidence shows difficulties inherent in teaching kids from disadvantaged backgrounds can be overcome. For example, in Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) public charter schools, students from the worst neighborhoods in America spend more hours than is usual with high-energy teachers who have high expectations. Extra work plus a no-excuses attitude yields high scores on their statewide tests. Imagine.
If I pay more for a TV, I expect more from it. In other words, price is a rational way to measure the difference between televisions. But apparently price is not a rational way to measure the difference between the Boise and Meridian school districts. Measuring the districts the way the federal government does by using NCLB shows Meridian gets better results at three-quarters of Boise's costs.
If there is no readily apparent superior outcome resulting from the Boise School District’s inflated costs, then why are we paying so much?