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Return on Educational Investment: A district-by-district evaluation of U.S. educational productivity

Abstract

"This report is the culmination of a yearlong effort to study the efficiency of the nation's public education system and includes the first-ever attempt to evaluate the productivity of almost every major school district in the country. In the business world, the notion of productivity describes the benefit received in exchange for effort or money expended. Our project measures the academic achievement a school district produces relative to its educational spending, while controlling for factors outside a district's control, such as cost of living and students in poverty.

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. ...

Our aims for this project, then, are threefold. First, we hope to kick-start a national conversation about educational productivity. Second, we want to identify districts that generate higher-than-average achievement per dollar spent, demonstrate how productivity varies widely within states, and encourage efforts to study highly productive districts. Third-and most important-we want to encourage states and districts to embrace approaches that make it easier to create and sustain educational efficiencies."

Accompanying this report is an interactive website that allows anyone to compare the relative productivity of thousands of school districts and find out more about their spending and achievement. Because we cannot control for everything outside a district's control when calculating its productivity evaluation, the site makes it easy to compare similar districts based on their demographics and enrollment. It also allows users to see how districts fare under different approaches to measuring productivity. The site was created in partnership with the nonprofit advocacy organization OMB Watch and the geo-information services company Esri.

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