Study: Eight R.I. school districts show low return on investment
THE CENTER FOR American Progress report on educational return on investment found that eight of the Rhode Island school districts that receive the most funding also give the lowest return on investment, based on student test scores during the 2010-11 school year.
PROVIDENCE – Many of Rhode Island’s school districts receiving the highest level of funding per student are among the districts with the lowest return on investment, according to an analysis of 7,000 districts nationwide by the Center for American Progress.
The study was restricted to districts that offer K-12 schooling with at least 300 students who took state reading and math assessments during the 2010-11 school year. Twenty-seven districts in Rhode Island were evaluated in the report and assigned an ROI rank based on academic achievement and spending data from the National Center for Education Statistics.
Of the 10 Rhode Island school districts with per-student expenditure above the $14,148 average, eight districts are rated as giving poor return on investment in terms of academic achievement. Newport, the district with the highest per-student expenditure at $18,062, ranked in the lowest ROI index level, along with North Providence, with per-student expenditure of $14,776.
Conversely, the districts with lower school dollars spent per student achieved higher ROI for student performance. Thirteen of the 17 districts with per-student expenditure lower than $14,148 were ranked as giving mid-to-high ROI. Nine districts achieved the highest possible ROI, including Cumberland, the district with the lowest per-student expenditure at $10,732.
The Center for American Progress report, produced annually since 2011, aims to highlight the issue of fiscal accountability in America’s public schools.
“In education, we simply have not had a national conversation about what bang we get for our education buck,” the report stated. “But given current trends, such as low revenues and increasing academic demands, we cannot continue to put off this conversation. … Fiscal accountability is central to our public education system, and educators need to spend school dollars well, if they want more school dollars.”
Ken Wong, an education researcher cited in the report, pointed to Rhode Island as an example of a state that has made significant reforms to the school system to improve educational return on investment.
In 2010, to address a chronically inequitable and ineffective funding system, the state reformed its school funding system to require districts to enact a uniform chart of accounts and tie fiscal data to school programming. Under the new system, Wong said, “district and state policymakers will be able to compare, for example, how a particular district or school is spending their state and local dollars to support math or reading learning.”
In addition, Rhode Island is one of only a few states that take a weighted-student, funding-based approach to education, in which money is distributed to schools based on student need. Such an approach helps to improve transparency, Wong said, and creates incentives for schools and districts to receive children from at-risk backgrounds.
“When it comes to productivity, the Rhode Island reforms offer an important lesson that robust fiscal data alone are not enough,” the Center for American Progress report stated. “Expenditure data also need to be connected to information on practice, programs and student outcomes.”