Do Higher Teacher Salaries in Philadelphia Area School Districts Equate to Higher PSSA & SAT Scores? Not According to Research Study

Periodically I have posted about the Unionville Chaddsford School District (UCFSD) and their ongoing teacher contract negotiation struggles of last year.  Deadlocked contract discussions required the PA Labor Relations Board to intervene and assist with the bargaining impasse. However, even after the release of the fact-finding report, it took months for resolution and the signing of a new contract.

After working without a teacher’s contract for over a year and weathering the contract negotiation process, a new contract between the UCFSD and the teachers was signed in September 2011.

Academically, there is a similarity between the UCFSD and T/E school districts – both districts are top performing school districts in the state.  On the SAT and PSSA performance, both school districts score in the top 1%.  In my post of September 21, 2010, I wrote that “T/E School District ranks #2 for SAT scores and UCFSD is ranked at #5.”  Using the high PSSA and SAT scores as a negotiating tool by the teachers union, I wondered if this was a tactic that would similarly be used in T/E and wondered if our school district could learn from the lessons in UCFSD.

All around we are seeing school districts struggling.  We are watching Delaware County’s Chester-UplandSchool District as they try to figure out if they can make their payroll next week.  Over in Bucks County’s Neshaminy School District, classes for 9,000 students are cancelled for the third day as their teachers strike. Having worked without a contract for four years, the teachers and the school board are battling over the contract and healthcare appears to be a major stumbling block on both sides.

If you follow Community Matters, you may recognize Keith Knauss as one of those that regularly comments on school district issues.  Knauss currently serves on the Unionville Chaddsford School Board and brings first-hand experience, especially when dealing with teacher negotiations.

Knauss prepared a report for his own school district, which he has graciously offered for Community Matters readers.  He looked at the 61 Philadelphia area school districts for factors that might explain the wide variation in academic achievement on PSSA and SAT tests.

Factors Knauss considered included:

  • Parental education
  • Poverty
  • Student to Teacher Ratio
  • Spending per Student
  • Average Teacher salary
  • Average Teacher experience
  • Average Teacher degrees

In his analysis of the data, Knauss uncovered some interesting results.  He discovered that “only two factors are significant – Parental Education and Poverty and those two factors alone can explain the bulk of the differences in academic achievement.”  Recognizing that “those two factors are beyond the control of the District”, Knauss notes that the “all other factors, where the District does have control over are not significant, including per student spending, class size, teacher salary, teacher experience, teacher education.”

While most of us might assume that the more experienced teachers, or those with the most education and the highest salaries would be factors associated with higher test results, Knauss research data does not support that theory, at least not in the 61 school districts in the Philadelphia area that he researched.  Knauss concludes, “contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence from the 61 districts that spending or the number of teachers has a measurable effect on academic achievement.”

Click here to read Keith’s Spending Trends Presentation TE research study.  I would encourage everyone to look at it – see which factors influence test scores in T/E.  A fascinating study providing an interesting way to look at what may (or may not) contribute to PSSA and SAT test scores.

Going back to the Neshaminy School District, according to a November 28 PhillyBurbs.com article, the teachers in this district are the highest paid in the state.  However, when you review the PSSA results, Neshaminy School District doesn’t even make the top 50 — but is number 245 among Pennsylvania’s 500 districts. Over half of the Commonwealth’s school districts have outperformed Neshaminy on PSSA tests for the last 10 years.

The SAT results in Neshaminy have the school district ranking number 156. And according to the article, over half of the teachers (337) make over $90K plus 64 teachers make over $100K.  The average teacher’s salary in Neshaminy School District is $80-85K.

Neshaminy parents who are opposing the demands of the teachers, claiming that they are not getting ‘what they are paying for’ — believing that because the teachers are the highest paid in the state, it should equate to higher test scores.  But as evidenced by Keith Knauss research data, their assumption would be incorrect.  According to the research, higher salaries do not necessarily mean higher PSSA and SAT scores.

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  1. Pattye:

    One question remains unasked in all of this: is all that we want from our schools higher scores on PSSA and SAT tests? What about good citizenship, sportsmanship, art, music, innovation, analytical skills, rhetorical skills and community involvement? If all we want is test scores, we can just contract the whole thing to Kaplan and walk away. The rest, as they say, takes a village (or a township.)

    [Reply]

    Pattye Benson Reply:

    Larry, good point. But unfortunately for many it may boil down down to thinking that higher test scores means a higher quality of college acceptances. And the truth is that in some cases, schools joke about how many kids with perfect SAT scores get turned down. Or at least that was our personal experience when our daughter went to Brown a few years ago. Brown was upfront about their admission process — and that they were looking for more in their student body than just perfect SATs … independent, creative, outside-the-box thinkers.

    [Reply]

    Kevin grewell Reply:

    Unfortunately, the intangible (but very important and very real) things like citizenship, character, etc. , are subjective and difficult to evaluate. Governments can only use (allegedly) objective quantifiable data – that can be reduced to numbers, charts, statistical analysis. Thus, we get the “testocracy” under no child left behind and state testing regimes. We decry “teaching to the test” yet we often lose sight of the intangibles as we conduct the discussion centered on test scores.

    The point is we have an example of public education at it’s best, and that is worth defending and preserving, whatever the faults of public education elsewhere may be. Of course parental education and affluence have a large influence on outcomes. Those families make more money and can afford to live in communities with good schools (supported by strong tax base driven by property values). They also tend to value education and set high standards and expectations for their children. But this does not mean spending is irrelevant. There is a limit to how much you can cut before you begin to erode quality – there will be a negative impact, particularly to the “intangibles.”

    [Reply]

    Randell Jesup Reply:

    I agree.

    I should note that the study by knauss is interesting, but it doesn’t prove what some might think it does. It proves there’s no correlation between spending (etc) and test scores in this region, however it does not prove that changing spending *in a district* won’t affect test scores. Statistics and correlation (and even more fun, causation) are often non-intuitive…

    It also looks at a snapshot, not the sum/sequence of funding in those districts during the entire schooling of the children taking the test. Take someone poorly educated and drop them into a well-funded, high-achieving district for the year of a test and they won’t suddenly catch up to the other students there (though they may start to).

    Boosting spending *within* a district might well improve test scores *over time*, not in a year or even two. It might (very likely would) also improve non-test-score quality of education, depending on how it’s spent.

    I went to top prep schools, and my opinion is that students there are much like students in public school (including brains, , but often have more emphasis on education from parents, more attention to individual issues from teachers (smaller classes/more spending), and more extra-curricular activities (and curricular but not test-oriented teaching). The education provided at top public schools (like T-E) is not that different in quality (especially non-test-oriented items) than what’s available to private school students, and that’s part of what draws people to this community. (It was a draw for me and my wife.)

    I shudder when I hear my niece from Alexandria, VA (in a good district supposedly) talk about how *all* they do is teach to tests, and after the last standardized test of the year they show movies and pretty much goof off until the end of the mandated number of school days. That’s what reliance on standardized tests leads to in the extreme, even in ‘good’ districts – everything else gets pared away in the name of keeping taxes low, and “quality” doesn’t suffer since it’s only measured in test scores. (and that brings in the state/federal dollars)

  2. Kevin,
    .
    I agree that “the intangible (but very important and very real) things like citizenship, character, etc, are subjective and difficult to evaluate.” And because they are difficult to measure and as a result, they are not measured, then I find it interesting that you can say with conviction that TE “is an example of public education at its best.” How are you measuring “best”? Test scores?
    .
    Further, how can you say that there will be a “negative impact” on intangibles if spending is cut? Could there be a positive impact (learning to live with less, dealing with adversity) if spending is cut?

    [Reply]

    Kevin grewell Reply:

    Intangibles – such as quality- such as the experience of going to our schools – is (pardon my expression) a bit like pornography – hard to define but we know it when we see it. In t/e we know we have good schools, we see the intangibles, and we are proud of our schools. The community has been willing and able to afford the program (afford is questionable if the economy remains in recession) and up until now (and I hope in the future) has chosen to build and maintain the program we have.

    And yes, our test scores are among the highest in the state and are measure of quality.

    Now you suggest that anything which cannot be proven essentially does not matter. Presumably you think we should not spend money on any such “intangible”. But that is a lousy basis for public policy and has never been the basis for decision making. I for one hope it never becomes our rationale for making decisions. About 90 percent of what we do as a community (through our locally controlled government entities such as the school district) are not based upon hard, quantifiable numerical data.

    Take sports for example. It is widely believed to have many benefits, but I have never seen a study linking athletics to any numerically quantifiable educational outcome. Yet every high school in America has an athletic program. Class size is another example – although there is good research linking smaller class size to improved test scores. There are other benefits which might prompt a community (exercising local control) to adopt smaller class size.

    Really, I don’t know what your point is. Are you suggesting we spend no more than the lowest spending school district in Pennsylvania? Why not, if per student spending has nothing to do with educational outcomes? If spending makes no difference, why don’t all school districts adopt the lowest spending per student?

    I’ll answer my own question: because at some point it does matter, because it’s about local control and community expectations, because the community would not stand for it, and because in reality there is no way to do it anyway.

    [Reply]

    Kevin grewell Reply:

    And while I’m thinking about it – patty tells us you are a board member in Unionville Chadds Ford – so, does your district have any plans to cut art, music, sports, and would you support that? Would you maintain that such cuts would not have a negative impact on the quality of your district, or your students?

    [Reply]

    Randell Jesup Reply:

    I should note that spending per student is a rather poor statistic (especially when only one year is looked at). Spending in dollars has a different effect in a district with high cost of living than in one with low cost of living. (I realize the study attempts to some degree to side-step that by looking at other measures).

    Spending per student also doesn’t take into account infrastructure costs – a district with old, leaky, run-down, partly-empty schools will have much higher ‘base’ costs than one which has new, energy-efficient buildings and equipment, sized for their current population.

    Measures like class size come closer to getting at that, and still may not correlate within our area, as there are many factors, only a few of which have been identified, so it’s hard to pull a signal from 61 measurements.

    I agree that things like parental interest and involvement (and education, and income, etc) are strong factors (part of the why charters and the like can appear to do better is that only students with parents who care and are involved will push to get their kids into one).

    And always be careful with correlation vs. causation.

    I believe that numeric ratings of schools are at best only very partial snapshots of school quality and quality of education.

    [Reply]

    Keith Knauss Reply:

    Randall,.
    Thanks for your reply. A few comments –
    .
    cost of living adjustments
    The state makes adjustments for the cost of living differences between districts. All 61 districts used in the model have the same Location Cost Metric of 1.13.

    Correlation and Causation
    I try to be careful with my wording and use terms such as “the data do not support…” There are probably a number of hidden variables behind the demographic variables. None-the-less, the high correlation of the demographic variable and low correlation of the “district” variables is probably a surprise and of interest to most readers. (think of how we pay teachers and how those measures – degrees, longevity – have low correlation with academic achievement)
    .
    other variables
    I’ve explored numerous other variables (over 50) to see their effect on the model. I only included the ones that were either significant or of interest because they were not significant. I’ve done this study 3 times since 2002. The results are always the same.
    .
    Spending per Student
    A one-year look at spending is valid. I used “current expenditures” which exclude one-time expenditures such as bond refinancing, additions/subtractions from reserves and debt service. (exclude the 4000 and 5000 functions if you are into school district accounting)
    While I can’t completely discount the “infrastructure cost” critique, I’ll note that capital improvement projects are financed over several decades and utility costs, including diesel fuel for the buses, are less than 3% of UCF’s budget. Do you have a suggestion for another variable to use?

    [Reply]

    Randell Jesup Reply:

    If they believe the cost-of-living for all 61 districts in the philly area is the same, they’re smoking something illegal. Not to say that will change the results, but it’s simply not reasonable. Now, cost-of-living mostly comes in via a) real-estate costs, b) costs for external contracts (busing, supplies, etc), c) energy costs, and d) (and most importantly) labor costs (which are indirectly tied to many of the same variables). If poor school districts in areas with low median incomes and low housing costs have to pay the same salaries (not just to teachers) as T-E does, then the COA adjustment may be reasonable – and poorer districts are *really* screwed, with a low tax base and high costs.

    I should note I didn’t suggest that simply “paying teachers more” would raise scores. I did say that the data doesn’t show whether raising expenditures in a district could improve scores (or the converse), especially given a more detailed look than $/student.

    Another problem for poorer districts is they have *far* more problems recruiting good teachers (or keeping them), even if they paid as much as the better districts. I’ll add that they have costs better districts may not (more security, etc). And that many of these demographic issues may blunt the ability of a school district to deal with the problems. (If parents treat the school as free daycare, no amount of spending will solve that problem.)

    So many of these variables are intertwined it’s hard to separate them out. Longevity and to a lesser extent degrees aren’t a great measure of teacher quality (and I realize that’s a seriously loaded issue).

    I disagree that one-year looks at spending is “correct”. A better measure (though it may well not change results) would be spending from kindergarten through when the test is taken, unless you believe that students appear as magic identical blank slates each year. (Perhaps weighted some towards the most recent years.) If you boost spending 50% in a year (by hiring a ton of teachers and say reducing class size by 50%) it’s not going to have all its impact in year 1.

    Yes, to a degree I’m quibbling – but many people don’t ‘get’ statistics and will totally miss points you understand about the limits of the data and conclusions.

    It’s a huge, hard, intertwined with all sorts of imponderables problem. Within limits, it is clear that small classes with good, motivated teachers works better than larger classes with less-motivated teachers, even if the #1 effect is demographic. (Also, if parents in such areas believe education will help their child, the results may be different – which is why charters in those areas may show better results, as motivated parents move their children and unmotivated ones don’t.

    Keith Knauss Reply:

    I agree that additional spending could increase academic performance as I noted in a post below.
    There exists the possibility that additional spending could improve academic results if it were spent in some new and unique way – possibly extended school day, extended school year, pay for performance, enhanced curriculum. But we have no supporting evidence.
    .
    We’ll agree to disagree on the validity of one year spending. I agree that integrated spending through the first 12 years would be best when running the analysis for SAT scores. However, my guess is that current spending (year 12) is a good reflection of what happened in years 1-11.
    .
    I agree that poor districts have problems (security , teacher turn-over) that drain dollars away from education. It would be interesting to take the 100 poorest districts in PA and run the same analysis. I wonder if some of the district variables would become statistically significant. And maybe large.

  3. Hi Kevin,
    .
    You ask a number of good questions. I struggle each year trying to determine the appropriate level of funding for the district. I believe the analysis I’ve presented brings surprising information to most people. I’m looking for a good discussion and thank you for participating.
    A few comments:
    You said, “I have never seen a study linking athletics to any numerically quantifiable educational outcome.” There are several. My favorite is Linking Extracurricular Programming to Academic Achievement, Beckett A Broh, Sociology of Education 2002, Vol 75, 69-91.
    You asked, “Are you suggesting we spend no more than the lowest spending school district in Pennsylvania?” No, but it is instructive to look at other similar, lower spending districts to see what they lacking, if anything, compared to TE. Maybe TE can get the same results at a lower cost. Likewise, it is instructive to look at other similar, higher spending districts to see what additional they are getting, if anything, compared to TE.
    You asked, “…does your district have any plans to cut art, music, sports, and would you support that?” No, but we did significantly increase activity fees to cut costs.

    [Reply]

    Township Reader Reply:

    Keith and Kevin
    All interesting exchanges, but I wonder how you get at the fundamental issue of what the program will bear — both in terms of cuts and in terms of spending without limits? Every year is 8% of a child’s life in a school program. I can say one thing about UCF based on 10 years ago — I worked with the guidance office there and heard the frustration that the economy was putting such pressure on parents that guidance counselors were taking a lot of flak for suggesting students apply to expensive schools. I worked in financial aid, so it was interesting to hear that from a district like UCF, but the impression then (yes — 10 years ago) was that the demographics were quite varied — with wealthy residents having one expectation and more rural residents not quite as “upwardly mobile.”

    SO — yes 10 years ago — but the realities at the time (I was a TE parent who worked with that guidance office too) was that parents were eager to have financial aid info, but that the “better” the college, the better the guidance staff. The staff at TESD felt pressure to encourage (and produce) kids going to “blue ribbon” schools (whatever that is??).

    So Keith — I do think community expectations play into the board dynamics. Like UCF, though, TE voters would never approve a referenda — just contrary to their post-depression roots here.

    As to sports Kevin — the reality of that is that so many more kids get into “highly selective schools” nowadays from the playing field than from the classroom. THe quality of a good education is hard to quantify, but scouts and camps and tournaments are a resume unto themselves.

    And I said on an earlier post — student spending is a number that is quantifiable, but not accurate in that it doesn’t reflect quality — teachers are paid on experience, so senior teachers cost more than new teachers, independent of quality. It costs as much per student to teach an AP course as an honors or on grade level course — unless it’s a new teacher, or a large class. The student who requires extra help costs more too. So it’s not per student spending that matters — it’s outcomes that matter — which is what this testing is meant to measure.

    But it’s the European model we are pursuing, without the European consequences. Quoting a friend who described her children’s education in Belgium:
    ” the education system was easy to define: teach to the government mandated test at the end of the year. No one thought to teach problem resolution, intellectual curiosity or imagination” Here’s the rub: we don’t have tests to “cull” the field. If you fail our high standards, you can still go on. SIngapore has an incredible system — they recruit teachers from the top notch schools and put them in special programs. They honor teachers. Let’s be candid — many, many teachers in the US come from very average programs, and we tenure them before we figure out if they are any good. Wonderful teachers get mixed in with average and poor teachers. Parent expectation is the quality most highly correlated with student achievement….yet more and more, parent expectation is on the program, not on the student.

    Sigh.

    Here’s one of the bottom lines. Maybe TE can get the same results on lower costs….whose kids do we test that theory on? Isn’t that what charter programs are all about? They can lower costs by denouncing state mandates, eschewing union steps, and providing a customized experience. They can also reject applicants (unofficially). TE has to educate who comes through the doors. So I’m all for reducing costs, and have explained here just how benefits can and should be restructured, but now that TE has put 3 administrators as the face of negotiations, they are asking 3 people to play with house money. There is no way it will be public — this is the livelihood of everyone at the table….and the admins they chose make twice what any teacher likely to be invovled makes. And who knows the billing rate for the lawyer.
    The state sets rules — and takes away the tools to execute them. Neshaminy — not exactly a lighthouse district….Central Bucks….too large a denominator to replicate savings. TE and UCF — what does the local union say? When TE tried to negotiate for an 8 hour day, the answe was “7:35 — longest day in Chester County.”

    Sigh.

    [Reply]

  4. Even though the demographic performance drivers may be well understood by most CM commenters, the tight correlation of scores with parental education is indeed a powerful graphic. The question then becomes: what is it that can move a district up from the line? Although poverty also is a driver, my guess it is tightly correlated with educational level and so doesn’t add much to the model. Radnor has decided that more tightly linking its curriculum with the SATs is one way to go. And for society as a whole: what will it take to move the bottom left of the line up so that everyone achieves an acceptable level of competency?

    To the question of whether the test scores are the right outcome measures, I think that the bottom line purpose of a district is to prepare its students well for the next phase of their education or career. For those going to college, we want them to be accepted to the college of their choice. A big part of that is indeed SAT scores and grades. Of course, extra-curricular achievements are also important (maybe unreasonably so?). However, college admissions offices do know how to correct for opportunity differences between high schools.

    It’s interesting that UCF has implemented/increased activity fees. I came away from Monday’s Finance Committee feeling that the TE Board has been spooked by some legal opinions in this area, and that they would do well to get an unambiguous statement of the rules around these fees. It’s interesting how errors can take on a life of their own: there’s a strong belief that the Radnor School District benefits from a business services tax, when it is in fact the township that does so (to the tune of about $6 million a year). The RTSD gets 10% of the township’s local services tax, or about $100,000. I think that this notion originated with the PSBA representative to the EIT; perhaps a reason in support of the budget strategy of dropping TE’s membership.

    [Reply]

    Keith Knauss Reply:

    Ray,
    .
    Poverty does contribute significantly to the model. While the “effect” is only half of parental education (see Sum of Squares) it is more than 10x larger than any of the other variables.
    .
    As for “moving the bottom left of the line up” I’m not hopeful. One solution is a KIPP or Harlem Academy like program, but that requires highly motivated teachers and highly motivated parents. I’m not sure if these types of programs can scale up to serve the need. With 40% of US children born to unmarried mothers the problem is almost impossible for the education system to solve.
    .
    TR,
    .
    I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss Central Bucks because of their “large denominator”. There are no significant economies of scale in education. CB runs an efficient operation because they plan to do so by measuring, graphing and comparing per student expenditures. From their budget presentation:
    Central Bucks is consistently rated among the top five academic school districts in the state. To this point, our students have the highest test scores in Bucks County and the lowest cost of education in the county. This is a very difficult combination to achieve but one that the district is committed to – excellence with value to our community.
    http://www.cbsd.org/schoolboard/Documents/budget2011-12/ExecutiveSummary2011-12Budget.pdf
    .
    I don’t worry that 3 administrators are the “face” of negotiations. Why should board members be involved with the meaningless posturing during the first few months of negotiations? The billing rate is probably $200 per hour. That’s what West Chester is paying for Sultanik and what UCF paid.

    [Reply]

    Ray Clarke Reply:

    I wonder how a plot of poverty vs {variation from the parental education/PSSA line} would look?

    Having identified the main statistical driver, it might be interesting to get field data on selected districts – say the four that are all have ~25% with a parental bachelors degree, yet the percent advanced PSSA are 20%, 36%, 45% and 57% – almost a three fold variation.

    It may not be possible to quantify all the factors going on. I have to believe that they would include things like % of parents volunteering, teacher classroom skills, principal leadership skills, % single parent families, % with one parent as homemaker, curriculum design, and so on. There must be lots of studies like this. Do you have the names for those four districts, so we can speculate here on what might be going on?

    The good news for TE is that we are “above the line”.

    [Reply]

    Keith Knauss Reply:

    Ray,
    .
    Look at these 4 districts to see the interplay between % bachelors’s degree, % low income and % adv PSSA.
    William Penn
    Penn Delco
    Pottsgrove
    Norristown
    .
    They all have the same % bachelor’s degree at about 25%. Yet the % adv PSSA varies from 20% to 50%. The reason: the % of low income varies from 17% to 75%.

    Ray Clarke Reply:

    Keith

    I figured out how to zoom my browser into your data table and found the exact districts I was thinking of:

    SD Adv PSSA Degree Poverty
    Quakertown 57.0% 25.1% 20.0%
    Oxford Area 44.7% 25.4% 36.8%
    Morrisville Borough 35.9% 25.4% 54.7%
    William Penn 20.3% 25.6% 75.4%

    The direct correlation with poverty surprised me (data is always good!). I ran a simple Excel regression of PSSA and poverty for all the districts and the correlation is 85%, even better than the 76% for Bachelors degree. Poverty and Bachelors degree are not as well correlated as I would have expected.

    Anyway, enough with the math – hopefully our Mr Sultanik is well aware of this analysis.

    It’s interesting that the Neshaminy situation highlights the risk under Act 1 to the union of not negotiating a new contract right away, even if it’s not apparently attractive. It would now take a referendum to make up even the lost steps, let alone any matrix increase, and with a wage scale already at the high end, that’s just not going to happen. After the last four year’s salary increases of 30% or more, TE has to take a similarly firm position, and then we’ll see if the TEEA wants to follow the NFT’s path.

  5. Without trying to correlate parent education to parent expectations,(I imagine those two are very similar if you consider expectations rather than goals) if poverty is tied to achievement, and student spending is based on the community, then the poorer the community, the less revenue it can generate, and the less per student spending you can do….so how can you discount or separate out spending tied to achievement? It’s catch 22.
    Thanks for this data Keith. Do tell us more about your activity fee model. TE’s board is too worried about what the neighbors think. IN principle, fees shouldn’t be levied because it is a public school with FAPE and equal access…but the reality is that the incentive to maintain the programs is highest for the participants — so why not have a way for direct contribution? (Though if I was a lawyer, I’m sure I could argue the other side). It’s like the decisions not to let home schooled kids participate in extra curricular activities…until someone sues.

    [Reply]

    Keith Knauss Reply:

    TR,.
    There is no catch 22.

    “if poverty is tied to achievement” YES
    “then the poorer the community, the less revenue it can generate” YES
    “the less per student spending you can do” Not necessarily, the state and federal government step in with aid to compensate
    “how can you discount or separate out spending tied to achievement?” I know it’s hard to “get your head” around the idea that spending does not have any measurable effect on academic achievement achievement for rich or poor districts. We’ve been taught over and over by vested interests that “if we only had more money we could improve things”. The 61 districts in the Philadelphia area have demonstrated that those spending more do not get better academic achievement – rich or poor.
    .
    There exists the possibility that additional spending could improve academic results if it were spent in some new and unique way – possibly extended school day, extended school year, pay for performance, enhanced curriculum. But we have no supporting evidence.

    [Reply]

    Township Reader Reply:

    State and federal aid only take a stab at funding. The states that have gone to state funding for schools, and state contracts (think Alabama, Texas, California) have literally turned “good schools” into average to poor schools. “The 61 districts in the Philadelphia area have demonstrated that those spending more do not get better academic achievement – rich or poor.”
    “More spending” is too relative a term to use it in this context. “More than what” is what is not discernible. How many $100,000 a year kids are in the database for special ed? How many of the teachers would be considered poor performing teachers. How big are the classes? How fancy are the desks? Does the school provide laptops?

    Bill and Melinda Gates are doing just this — trying to see where to put the money in education to generate the best results. But your data are boosts for the notion of charter schools — where the school can put the money where they want. Considering that you are constitutionally barred against reducing compensation — you would spend 10 times the teacher’s salary to attempt to defend a termination of a tenured employee (if the union didn’t go along with it), and teachers do not lose money by striking. Not a dime. Do you want to test what a strike does to a community? Will Neshaminy really be better off when this is over? What does better off even mean?

    The issue is that school boards confuse what they spend with what they do. TE is about to get a big dose of that, because by having administrators do the negotiations, they are making the Admins change sides. Within the school community, it is “US” (the staff and administration) and “THEM” (which is a changing reference to parents, board, state regulators). There is a common goal — the kids — and it’s only conflicted when US and THEM disagree on outcomes. By asking the Admins to negotiate, they are changing the dynamic. People that work together to solve problems will now be thrown together to review problems and decide what the fix is….but the admins will have their hands tied….so the need to have inherent managerial rights will be blurred with “negotiating power.” And the admins, whose own benefit plan is TIED to the teachers benefits — just how creative can the solution be? The only possibility is that they all sit in the sandbox and agree that “THEM” (the board/taxpayers/parents) are out to screw them, so they should decide together how to screw themselves.

    As a school board in a state that does not do equitable funding, the “quality” of schools IS driven by student spending if you could factor out costs. The outcome is NOT driven by spending…. which I believe is tied to expectations. The class size data that Kevin G references derived from the Star Study in Tennessee. But common sense tells you that you can teach a smaller group better than a larger group — or tutoring would fail for remediation. But that’s only holding the quality of teacher constant. A fabulous teacher can teach any number of kids – though even that fabulous teacher would suggest that the time/effort associated with too many students, or too many preps (teaching additional sections or classes) reduces the quality of the product they deliver.

    So the data analysis and massaging that data is all intellectually interesting, but you have a mandated public school system that is funded (for the self-sufficient districts…whatever that is) largely by the property values surrounding the school. The property values are fueled by the demand for property — which is driven by the quality of the schools. That’s the Catch 22 I reference. Cut the program from some level — we don’t have a “control” school with a state contract — to some lower level and you can consider student performance as purely data. You cannot set a constant against which to control against. Again, who wants to be the subject of that experiement?

    Buying into the notion of examining data in a period of time to decide what school should spend is like calling all the troops home on the same day….what is your goal? The only way to alter the programs in place is with spending. We have a state that has strict licensing/certification standards for teachers on up, and we have incredibly strong tenure laws in a pro-union state. You cannot hire a President of Harvard to be a school superintendent — unless they have jumped through the hoops established by the state. Fair Share is part and parcel of being a teacher. Teachers for the most part hang with other teachers — to become a teacher they are educated in programs with others aspiring to be teachers, and are taught by people certified to teach them to be teachers.

    SO — charter schools ARE the answer? If you want to use spending and student achievement as measures — then you have to be willing to thin the herd. Fire teachers, and jettison kids into other programs. Don’t cut it in math — go take vocational courses. In some communities, that’s already happened. Not many though. Here in Lake Woebegone…..”all the children are above average.” Depending on your universe of study, maybe somewhere that is true…

    [Reply]

  6. Good discussion- I think we all have made some good points and have offered some good ideas, but sadly we seem to be in consensus that there are no viable overall solutions to the problem. I apologize again for my tone, but I tend to get angry at the circumstance. I see things getting a lot worse before they get better, with cuts to programs (particularly things like art, music, theatre, and athletics). The kids are potentially the big losers in this. And I am thinking of kids in t/e, but there are also all the kids in failing, impoverished districts.

    [Reply]

    John Reply:

    I would say that the answers lies beyond the schools. We need to address poverty issues. Poverty and higher levels of education are tied. The poorer you are the harder it is to further your education. The less educated you are the harder it is for your children to pursue further education. Address the poverty issues and (and this is the key) in time you will address the education issues. It may take several generations.

    I think the data shows that the higher the level of poverty in a district the more the money that is spent is wasted money. That is because the money is being spent on the wrong problem. It isn’t necessarily the skill of the professional that hinders these kids – it’s poverty. And that is a self feeding system.

    Conversely money spent in a wealthy district can do more (I am not suggesting there is no limit) because you aren’t spending money to try to combat an issue that the school’s cannot control. Money spent in our district can be spent on issues that improve the education of our students.

    [Reply]

    Kevin grewell Reply:

    You are right of course. This will take time, which is why I am pessimistic for the short term. I try to be more optimistic long term. I do not always succeed in that.

    [Reply]

  7. Activity Fee Report
    http://www.ucfsd.org/pdf/pffr.pdf
    .
    Activity Fee Spreadsheet
    http://www.ucfsd.org/pdf/actpartfeess_110510.pdf

    [Reply]

    Township Reader Reply:

    Thanks for all this detail. I read the report — not the spreadsheet — but I have a question relating to the fee: The conclusion in the report is that it will generate $50,000. How much of an increase in your taxes would generate $50,000? I ask because I cannot imagine that $50,000 is any more than a drop in the bucket for your budget revenue issues. It’s a start, but I’d be interested to know what your participation levels did? If you look at what parents pay for private coaching, travel programs etc., the notion of $25 (maxed at $200 per child for perhaps 50 kids) seems trivial. Bold — but trivial. What has been the response?

    [Reply]

    Keith Knauss Reply:

    Good questions. A 0.1% RE tax increase would generate $50K and this is, as you say, a drop in the bucket compared to our $70M budget. However, the $50K in addition to the fees already levied amount to between 10% and 15% of the extracurricular cost. Personally, I’d raise the fees over time to collect about 50% of the cost – an equal sharing of extracurricular activities between parent and taxpayer. I don’t think there is much support from other board members for this course of action.
    .
    There has been no drop in participation or complaints as far as I know. However, the additional fees have been in place for only half a school year.

    [Reply]

  8. Maybe the answer is to focus on the quality of teachers, rather than just salaries?
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/12/opinion/kristof-the-value-of-teachers.html?_r=1&smid=fb-nytimes&WT.mc_id=OP-E-FB-SM-LIN-TVT-011212-NYT-NA&WT.mc_ev=click

    [Reply]

    Township Reader Reply:

    Thanks for this link. I hope people read it, but note his shying from the reality that teacher quality matters, but teacher unions are almost universally opposed to any measure of it. Mr. Kristof also thinks this is a national issue that needs a national platform, but if the Federal government starts mandating things (think No Child Left Behind), they still do not control the operations within each state, and we know they don’t have the money to fund it either. NCLB was a federal idea with state implementation — so each state sets standards…independent of each other. Meeting standard in MIssissippi has nothing to do with meeting standard in New Hampshire. So sure — let’s concentrate on teacher quality. I encourage anyone who gets the channel to watch Dan Rather Reports on HDNet (it’s on demand) on his visit to Singapore schools. They are singular and exceptional. The implications of how they have evolved are fascinating. If we could start over — start fresh — it makes sense. As I have said before — the sad part about all this is that the bigger the organization, the less nimble/flexible/creative it is likely to be. So you can try to be sure YOUR kids get a good teacher — but there is no provision at the state level or the federal level to furlough a poor teacher. A dreadful, awful, non-performing teacher — you have a shot. So districts that can afford it have resources for staff development. TE has in-service days for that purpose — and one of the budget strategies is to cut those non-student days. That’s how it starts.

    [Reply]

  9. Private school teachers make less money than public school teachers yet statistical analysis of the achievement of private school students is equal or better than public, even when controlled for race, gender, etc. Public schools have become bloated behemoths.

    http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2006461

    http://www.cato-at-liberty.org/ditching-collective-bargaining-wont-control-public-school-costs-heres-what-will/

    [Reply]

    Township Reader Reply:

    Private school students are there because someone is paying for them to be….and students who cannot cut it there are dismissed. The myth that private schools are better than public schools is based on one key issue: students and teachers in private schools have no due process rights. So while it is worth it to say teachers make less (they are under annual contracts and are not tenured, and do not require certification), the student population is there under very different circumstances.

    I have seen “lifers” from local independent schools expelled for incidents outside of the school, and I have seen students “not invited back” for special circumstances (ADD, OCD). LIkewise, the student spending is far in excess of any spending in even the most expensive public schools. At least locally.

    [Reply]

    Randell Jesup Reply:

    The teachers may earn less (or not), but at non-religious prep schools, the tuition is $20-40,000 (more if boarding), and the endowments and annual fundraising, etc add another $10-30,000+ to the budget per student. And they don’t generally have capital debt, since that’s usually covered by large donations or longer fundraising. And they often have facilities private colleges would die for. (The arts center at my old prep school was way better/larger/more expensive than my (very good) college had.)

    What public district spends anywhere near that much? Or has class sizes circa 15 students? Or 80% of teachers with advanced degrees, who at boarding schools live with the students?

    “Private” is not a magic panacea, though private schools have a bunch of advantages like being able to fire teachers (and students!) easily.

    [Reply]

    Township Reader Reply:

    Let’s not get too excited here…independent schools have higher spending because they have a smaller student body over which to spread the fixed costs among other reasons. As I said above, there is no due process — which means kids can get booted and teachers can get fired. They tend to make less because they in many cases have less marketable credentials, though some local programs lost teachers to public schools and made a huge push to stem that flow. (pensions, benefits — but public schools require certification, and so many private schools hire people with advanced degrees but no education background). Don’t be jealous of what you haven’t experienced. It’s one of the reasons I advocate for higher fees in public schools — because parents are getting a great deal, and if taxpayers won’t support it, why damage the program? Subsidize it yourselves.

    [Reply]

    Randell Jesup Reply:

    I’ve experienced public schools as well (and some failed experimental programs as well in the 1970’s), in addition to some of the best prep schools.

    Sure, partly it’s fixed costs being divided by less students. That doesn’t account for all of it. And for test results, don’t also forget selection bias – good prep schools, like good colleges, get to select from a much larger pool of applicants (though ‘legacies’ and the like probably drag the averages back down some…). And going back to the original analysis, prep school parents generally have higher education (and though not measured, I suspect you’d find correlation between scores and parental income (not just poverty %), and a number of other demographic variables, many of which probably all link back to a combination of resources, emphasis on education, early (and later) nutrition, etc.

    In my view, spending and parental involvement and emphasis are things that amplify each other; neither on it’s own will be as effective.

    Prep school facilities and spending may help; especially the smaller classes, but also the extended version of ‘parental’ emphasis on education. I suspect it helps more in non-test-measured aspects of learning, though.

    And overall, Township Reader, I’m agreeing with you.

  10. Hmm, so the teachers make less yet spending per student is more. What does that indicate? Maybe the money is spent in far more effective ways.

    [Reply]

    Randell Jesup Reply:

    Actually I suspect that prep school teachers are not paid less if you include stuff like housing (for boarding schools). Religious schools do pay less than public schools generally.

    Also note that local Catholic schools are contracting and hoping to boost their academic performance to compete, especially now that they no longer get cheap labor from nuns and priests the way they did.

    [Reply]

  11. Randall,
    .
    I took your advice and look at the integral of spending over the last 11 years as a substitute for last year’s per student spending. Spending is statistically significant in both cases. Both spending variables a highly correlated. Rsq=93%

    [Reply]

    Keith Knauss Reply:

    That should read “NOT statistically significant” and “variables are highly correlated” in the last 2 sentences above.

    [Reply]

    Randell Jesup Reply:

    Thanks. It’s not surprising that it didn’t change the results of your analysis, but I do think it’s a better thing to use – especially as some items known to be correlated with positive results occur much earlier, and each year of learning builds on the previous one.

    [Reply]

  12. Keith should mind his own business. He is a very controversial member of the UCFSD Board and has an approach that creates a lot of animosity. I live in the UCFSD and have experienced his performance first hand. He cost the school district thousands of dollars in pursuing a right to know quest. I truly believe he only cares about HIS bottom line.

    [Reply]

  13. Ruth,
    .
    When someone takes a strong stand on important issues it unfortunately can create animosity.
    .
    Thank you for mentioning my right to know requests. As a result of vigorously pursuing my legal right to information from a prior secretive school board I was honored by the Pennsylvania Freedom of Information Coalition in 2010.
    .
    ““Our intention is to recognize individuals who have worked hard to make sure public records stay in the hands of the public,” said Gayle C. Sproul, president of the PaFOIC board of directors, in a news release. “Sen. Pileggi and Mr. Knauss have been exceptional in their service to the public’s interest of open government.”
    .
    It should be noted that the school board could have avoided the expenditure of thousands of dollars just by making the requested records public. It was their choice to employ a lawyer to appeal the favorable (to me) decisions of the PA Office of Open Records.

    [Reply]

    Township Reader Reply:

    Thanks for the response Keith. I have seen the dangers of the right to know law and how school boards have used it now to make information even more difficult to request. I asked for the matrix of the TE district in a text form (so that I could use it) and was sent the info in a PDF — “the way they send it to the teachers” — i.e. the way it is public. There is NO reason for them to create the difficulty, but the RTK law has turned into a way to obfuscate. The sad thing is that the members of school boards are absolutely no wiser than we citizens — but they find themselves thinking that what they do is so important that they need to keep it secret. Keith — as long as you think outloud, you are going to get more scrutiny then many, but you will not fail in your job if you are strong enough to think out loud. One of the reasons I no longer attend board meetings is that I find the arrogance of limiting questions to beginning and end to be counter productive. I want to ask my question when the topic is on the table. I realize they don’t think that is practical, but the give and take doesn’t work if they don’t give. You are correct — districts choose to fight RTK requests. It’s silly and it’s purposeless, but it is arrogance masquerading as privacy.

    [Reply]

    Ray Clarke Reply:

    One step forward under the previous Public Information Committee was the provision for public comment – at a designated point – during the “Priority Discussion/Action” items on the Agenda. I think that this has turned out to be helpful.

    The RTK discussion reminds me of a question I have regarding the Fund Balance. Why are they so averse to any discussion of it? Are there any hidden agendas here? Is there any entity that gets fees on the $30 million that gets to be invested? I suspect a RTK might be required to ferret that out. Does anyone have any info?

    [Reply]

    Township Reader Reply:

    The fund balance has a whole bunch of money committed for retirements….and the fact is that it was “designated” to even out PSERS spikes — and now they are using the PSERS spike to apply for exceptions. They also want to build some storage someplace — presumably on the old ESC property…and they will use it to do that.

    Keith Knauss Reply:

    TR,
    .
    Thanks for the advice to “think out loud”. It’s advice that I have followed for many years. How else can we get to a good solution to our problems if we don’t use our combined wisdom?
    .
    Ray,
    .
    I suspect you may not get a good discussion of the fund balance because it may be involved with the board’s negotiations strategy. You mentioned in a post above “we’ll see if the TEEA wants to follow the NFT’s path.”
    .
    I don’t suspect there are any fees associated with the invested $30M. UCF has an audited financial statement each year that lists where the assets are held. UCF’s funds are held by PLGIT (Pennsylvania Local Government Investment Trust) & PSDLAF (Pennsylvania School District Liquid Asset Fund). Ask for TE’s last audit report.

    Ray Clarke Reply:

    Maybe I can be optimistic and assume for now that there is no investment manager that takes a slice of that already minuscule (miniscule?) short term investment income.

    Back to the public comment topic, I just noticed that West Chester is struggling to come up with a public comment policy. Currently they have a practice to allow comment at only the beginning and end of meetings – hardly productive, as TR notes.

    That led me to look at a tape of the last WCASD Board meeting, devoted solely to the hiring of Jeff Sultanik to represent the district in negotiating the next teacher contract. There was a stream of objections from the public and the teachers, but the hiring was approved 8-1. Interesting that in TE the matter was decided without public discussion, and there has been no subsequent objection, except a little discussion here on CM.

    WC has some history with Sultanik in 2003: $73,000 of fees (equals 60 hours a month for 6 months at $200 per hour???) and a teacher strike, which may explain the acrimony. I came away grateful that TE didn’t waste a couple of hours of public discussion on something that is just good governance practice.

    And maybe it’s a good thing that school districts are getting the kind of coordination through Sultanik that the PSEA provides the local unions.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Benson Reply:

    Ray, Do we know how much T/E is paying Sultanik? Would it be a per hour rate with an estimate given to the district. It certainly couldn’t be more than an estimate since there’s no way for him to know how long or which direction the negotiations might take. $73K to West Chester and a teacher strike – interesting.

    Keith Knauss Reply:

    In my experience, the vote of board members is decided before the board meeting. Public comment at a board meeting (before of after) is likely to have limited influence over the decision as public opinion has already been heard at committee meetings, the work session and via direct communications. The real deliberation at UCF comes during the committee meetings and the work session held one to two weeks prior to the board meeting. At those meetings there is sufficient time to hear detailed presentations, pose questions, conduct informal debate and hear from the public.
    .
    I was surprised that the only way to contact the TE board is through schoolboard@tesd.net. I wonder who reads the email and responds. Do all 9 director get to see the emails? All the UCFSD directors (and West Chester) list their direct email address.

    Ray Clarke Reply:

    Pattye – all I know is the $200 per hour for UCFSD reported by Keith here and the same number given by WCASD. I imagine that TE would be similar. A smooth negotiation with both parties being realistic would presumably involve little time and cost, in contrast to that WC 2003 experience.

  14. KK and Ray
    You are correct about the possibilities — but here’s the problem. The “team” that will negotiate does not have any answer to what the fund balance is for. And the 3 admins that are negotiating are entitled to private contracts (not admin contracts), make much more than any teacher, and have a benefits plan tied to the teacher plan.

    I have done many, many negotiations. Unless you can speak for the board, confident of representing a block of 5 that will okay your strategies, you are toast. Earlier Keith you said the start of negotiatons is just time wasting (or something to that effect), but I can assure you that TE negotiatoins have rarely been like that. The current union leadership, however, has turned everything over to the uniserve rep — and now the board has turned everything over to Sultanik. We are there to get a job done and settle a contract. The parameters are clear and the goal is clear. This time around, I truly do not think that is going to work.
    And they don’t talk about the fund balance because they don’t know what they will do with it either — except they will build storage facility somewhere.

    [Reply]

  15. TR,
    .
    I tend to be more optimistic. I believe the board is carefully managing the negotiations process through their agents (negotiations team). One of their agents is Sultanik who is an expert in PSEA negotiations.
    http://www.psba.org/issues-advocacy/advocacy-services/legislative-testimony/testimony-teacherstrikes-laborrelations.asp

    [Reply]

    Township Reader Reply:

    Very familiar with Sultanik — and the only concern I have is that no one thinks outside the box and he offers simply one more table at which to deal with the Chester County PSEA uniserve people.
    As to the email — it is quite efficient — because anything sent to it becomes public domain, and it is read by the board, the superintendent, the board secretary, and about anyone in the admin that they think should get it. I think it starts at the Communications director desk, but may be general distribution. I found out more than I needed to know when I contacted it several years ago and was not getting any response, only to learn that because I referenced “PSERS” in it, it got flagged as junk….and I had to contact the person in charge of the internet to figure it out.
    Glad you are optimisitic. I am too….but not for progress, just for a settlement.

    [Reply]

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