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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Nov 2005

    Default Are we getting what we are paying for?

    I think, though I had a little trouble following the point of the letter, that a writer to this week's Town Crier thinks we're not getting what we're paying for with our schools. (See this link for the letter) While I'm not going to argue that our schools are perfect, or that there isn't anyway to do better, I do think we are doing quite well with our school dollars.

    Let me take the letter on, piece by piece.

    Quote Originally Posted by Letter to the Crier
    "Wayland’s per-pupil spending also follows the out-of-line-with-income pattern. The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education data shows most entities that had higher per-pupil spending were either located on the Cape, were regional high schools, or were cities. Looking at the School Committee "peer town" list, Wayland ranked seventh, and Cochituate’s per-capita income was significantly below any of those on the list."
    There are 73 schools (of 329) that outspend Wayland. The list does include a number of schools from the Cape (and cities), but it also includes, for example, Lincoln (and Lincoln-Sudbury), Framingham, Bedford, Lexington, Dover (and Dover-Sherborn), Concord (and Concord-Carlisle), Berlin, and also Brookline and Newton. Wellesley is just below Wayland (with only 131 student Hawlemont between). (Looked at another way, so we don't over- or under-weight big cities or small towns, 19% of the state's students have more spent on them per capita than Wayland's, while 81% have less.)

    The complete list of per pupil expenditures is available here.

    Quote Originally Posted by Letter to the Crier
    Before April elections, our Finance Committee developed a new list of "peer towns." This was not vetted with the public, but the reason may be obvious – it is hard to find a list of communities where comparisons flatter Wayland. Like the School Committee’s "peer towns," this group does better than Wayland in the economic areas that matter. They all appreciated better, and only one community had a lower median house price and higher tax rate. The town of Sharon bought large conservation land parcels, and plans no new expenditures for the foreseeable future. These peers all spent at least $1,000 per pupil less than Wayland.
    FinCom's review of peer towns, and a detailed comparison of them v. Wayland, is available here. A diverse set of people were interviewed in the generation of this list (including George Harris, Alan Reiss and Lisa Valone), and the full rationale is available in this document.

    The School Committee's list is available here.

    I don't have the time available to review the appreciation data for all the peer towns, though it would be helpful to know over what time period the writer was doing the comparison. Is she looking at a single year, five years, ten? It's hard to know whether she's accurate if so little detail is provided.

    Quote Originally Posted by Letter to the Crier
    First, a definition: Cochituate is comprised of parts of precincts 2, 3 and 4, south of where routes 126 and 27 split, across Shaw Drive, up Rice Road, and through Mainstone. You can view the map of Cochituate at "". Cochituate is a wealthy community, in the top 10 percent in per capita income in Massachusetts. Why not spend like the top 1 percent and get the best schools in the state? Those top 1 percent communities are nationally recognized (Newsweek, U.S. News &
    World Report "gold" ranking), and Wayland is not. Our SAT scores and MCAS scores are similar to either "peer town" group, suggesting the extra spending is not returning any additional benefit in learning or stature. Wayland’s scores also rival those of many charter schools, which have very low per-pupil direct educational expenditures.
    But what she doesn't tell you is that Wayland does perform at the very top of the state (and Massachusetts had, by a significant amount the highest percentage of top performing schools in the country at 8.6%, with the next highest being Connecticut at 6.9%). Interesting is the writer's omission of the Boston Magazine review, which put Wayland right up among the top, and included significant detail on each town's performance.

    As the writer knows, Wayland boycotted Newsweek's rankings, which are based solely on AP participation (and, for example, completely ignores scores on those tests. A school could even opt to pay for students to take the tests - without even taking an AP course - and score a 1, and that would increase their ranking).

    US News and World Report selected Wayland as "Silver", placing it within the top 3% of US schools. Among the 100 top .5%, half had selective admission criteria (such as Boston Latin, one of only two schools selected in Massachusetts). So Wayland was found to be somewhere between .5% and 3%.

    There were only two schools then, that were ranked in a higher category than Wayland by USNews: Belmont and Boston-Latin (the latter a selective admission school, and the former came in 100th).

    See: for details.

    See for the Boston Magazine details.

    To show the difficulty with rankings, note that Wayland significantly outperformed Belmont in the Boston Magazine rankings, while US News & World Report found that Belmont was among the very tops in the US. Less gaming is possible with the US News & World Report rankings than the Newsweek ones (as the former required that test takers actually PASS the test), but it does still essentially rate the schools (once selected using a far more robust filter than Newsweek) by their AP rates. A useful measure, but clearly not the only one.

    Considering that Boston Magazine's rankings were far more comprehensive (and better suited to comparing a school within an individual state), I'm happy to use those (though others may feel free to disagree).

    Boston Magazine found Wayland to rank 12th on Cost Efficiency, and 8th on Academic Performance. For a spreadsheet with information from all three rankings, click here. (Note: the spreadsheet uses 2008 US News & World Report info, but 2009 is now available, and is what I reference above).

    Quote Originally Posted by Letter to the Crier
    The MassINC report released last week ("Incomplete Grade: Massachusetts Education Reform at 15") found the top-spending quartile of communities in Massachusetts had supported overrides that kept those children learning ahead of the other three-fourths of Massachusetts students. A Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision (McDuffy v. Robertson, 1993) mandates equal educational opportunity in the public schools for every child. Other mechanisms may therefore be used to re-level the educational playing field, including additional taxes on the upper quartile, especially on the top spenders. Wayland is in that upper quartile. But need we spend on major parameters of
    education like the top 1 percent in Massachusetts to get the strongest
    educational product for Wayland? It appears not. Many (including our peer towns) do better with less.
    Interesting. The writer points out that Towns that pass overrides do better than those that don't, but I think she's suggesting we shouldn't. Maybe I misunderstand, but it seems she is suggesting that we start failing overrides, wait until we aren't performing as well, and hope the state bails us out?

    This same writer has consistently complained that we spend too much (yes, our salaries our high, but our per pupil expenditures are just barely top-quartile), and that we don't rate well (I suppose that's true, if you ignore where we do! :-) and don't acknowledge where we boycotted)


    Curious what others think. Are we doing well with what we have? And how can we do better?

    One thought I have on that is that aiming to increase AP participation rates would not only improve rankings, but would be good policy. I fear that AP breadth may be one of the things to suffer in coming years if budgets get increasingly tight, but I hope we can maintain and build on our AP offerings. Perhaps that thought belongs on this thread instead.
    Last edited by Kim Reichelt; 06-05-2009 at 09:25 AM. Reason: to correct Wayland's BostonMag rank (had said 9, but correct ranking is 8), and to add the 19% calculation for expenditures

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