University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

More Money, More Growth?

In The View from the OEP on December 4, 2019 at 1:32 pm

We’ve been thinking a lot this week about school-level expenditures, and if the expenditures relate to student academic growth. We think that growth is the best reflection of the effect that a school is having on student learning. Spoiler Alert: there is essentially no relationship between how much a school is spending and how much growth is being made by the students enrolled.

As you may remember, last spring the state released school-level expenditures for the first time. This presents an unprecedented opportunity to examine the equity, efficiency, and efficacy of Arkansas’ public education spending.

We have examined school-level expenditures through a variety of lenses in previous posts, and have found that Arkansas’ schools spend more the higher a school’s poverty level, that overall traditional school and charter school expenditures per pupil are quite similar, and that Arkansas spends the most on high schools and the least on middle schools, with elementary school spending falling in between.

We also have posted a lot about growth!  You probably know by now that growth is much less correlated to poverty at the school level than achievement, students in schools with larger average class sizes demonstrated greater academic growth than their peers in smaller classes, and growth doesn’t have the intended impact on school level grades.

In this post we are digging into a big question- is more spending related to higher student growth?

In this analysis, we are considering 2017-18 school-level per pupil expenditures and the 2017-18 school content growth score. We are using 2017-18 data since the 2018-19 expenditure data haven’t been released yet. Please note that we exclude the high school level Alternative Learning Environments (ALEs) from this analysis due to the small and specialized populations that they serve.

School expenditures are reported in various categories.  We start with the personnel expenditures as the majority of school funds are used to pay for teacher salaries and benefits. The data presented in Figure 1 show that there is not a strong relationship between school instructional spending and the academic growth of students at the school.  Some schools are represented in the upper left quadrant, spending more than average per student on personnel, while students demonstrate lower than expected growth.  Other schools are represented in the lower right quadrant, where students demonstrate higher than expected growth, even though the school is spending less than average per student on personnel.

Figure 1: Scatter Plot of 2017-18 School-Level Personnel Expenditures Per Pupil vs. Content Growth

Personnel CG

We also considered the relationship between student academic growth and instructional spending. As presented in Figure 2, we see the same lack of relationship between expenditures and student growth.

Figure 2: Scatter Plot of 2017-18 School-Level Instructional Expenditures Per Pupil vs. Content Growth

Inst CG


Finally, we expanded our analysis to total school expenditure, because we think maybe all the dollars spent could have an impact on student learning. Once again, there is a lack of a relationship, as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Scatter Plot of 2017-18 School-Level Total Spending Per Pupil vs. Content Growth

total CG


Does the relationship vary by school level?

We might think that greater expenditures in elementary schools lead to larger academic gains for students than investments in later grade levels. We previously found that expenditure varies between school levels (elementary, middle, and high). Content growth should not vary by school level, as average growth at each grade level is 80. Below, we present the figures for Elementary, Middle, and High Schools, respectively.

Figure 4: Scatter Plot of 2017-18 School-Level Total Spending Per Pupil vs. Content Growth, Elementary School Level

Elem CG

Figure 5: Scatter Plot of 2017-18 School-Level Total Spending Per Pupil vs. Content Growth, Middle School Level

Mid CG

Figure 6: Scatter Plot of 2017-18 School-Level Total Spending Per Pupil vs. Content Growth, High School Level

High CG

At all school levels we see essentially no relationship between the amount spent per pupil and the academic growth of students.

Does this mean that money doesn’t matter to student growth?

Nope! This analysis is descriptive, not causal, meaning that we are just describing the relationship between two variables, as opposed to claiming that changes in one will (or will not) lead to changes in the other. What our descriptive analyses do shed light on, however, is that schools spending the same amount per pupil can realize very different growth outcomes for students.  This lack of a direct relationship between expenditures and growth could indicate that it is more about HOW schools are using their resources (including time, money, and people) than how many resources they have. We look forward to seeing the 2018-19 school expenditure data and checking to see if the (lack of) relationship still exists. What do you think?


Looking for Teachers?

In The View from the OEP on November 20, 2019 at 9:52 am

AR Teachers Logo_horiz PNG

Question: How many clicks does it take for an Arkansas teacher to find a great job?

Answer: Way too many.

Currently, for a teacher to apply for a job in an Arkansas public school they have to:

  1. know the name of a school district where they might be interested in working
  2. find the district website
  3. locate where jobs are posted on the website
  4. filter through job postings for bus drivers, food service personnel, and other positions, to see if there is one that matches their credentials
  5. either create an online account and answer a bunch of questions or, perhaps, download a paper application to fill out and send in
  6. repeat for each school district

While researching Arkansas’ teacher shortage, we have learned that many school districts were having difficulty in attracting qualified teachers (no surprise). We also have discovered that job postings could be difficult for applicants to locate, and that the application process could be complicated and time consuming. District job postings were uninspiring, and generally neglected to mention why teachers should want to work in the district or any incentives intended to entice teachers to the district.

So we decided to try to make the process easier for teachers and districts, and have been working on a “common application” for Arkansas teachers. is the free resource designed to make it easier for teachers to find great jobs, and for school districts to find great teachers.

  • makes it easier for teachers to find district job postings. Once a district posts a position, it will automatically appear to qualified teachers that have created a profile on the site.  Teachers can filter the jobs by distance or other characteristics.
  • allows districts to pro-actively recruit teachers. Districts have access to a pool of teachers looking for jobs including those interested in long-term substitute opportunities.
  • makes the job-application process easier for teachers by automatically identifying jobs that match their qualifications, and streamlining the application process with a common application format.
  • helps teacher applicants be better informed by providing an estimated salary for each position based specifically on their education/experience as well as the districts’ student/teacher ratio.

We know that you already have a process for hiring teachers, but hope that you will add to your recruitment plan.  In addition to connecting teachers and districts, the site will generate information about how many teaching positions need to be filled and the types of applicants that districts are looking for. This information will allow Arkansas’ policy makers and teacher-preparation programs to better understand the need for educators around the state. The more districts that participate, the better the information we can use as feedback.

This is a soft launch of the system before the full hiring surge later in the Spring. We will be working with educator preparation programs to sign up prospective teachers, allowing districts to pro-actively recruit teachers, like how colleges reach out to high school students and invite them to apply. was designed specifically for Arkansas to meet the needs of Arkansas teachers and public school districts. There’s not a lot of bells and whistles- and no one is making any money off of the process.  Our goal was to make the system as simple as possible for both teachers and districts.

Have an open position in your district, or looking for a long-term sub for the spring?  To get started, just ask your HR staff to go to and sign up. The superintendent will get an email asking to confirm that the HR person is authorized to post jobs for the district, then the district will be on its way to finding the best teachers for their students.

Know a teacher that is or will be looking for a position? Have them go to and sign up. It just takes a few minutes to create a profile and it is free!

We know that getting a great teacher in every classroom is a critical step in ensuring a quality education for Arkansas students, and makes it easy and free.

AR Teachers Logo_ state and apple only png



Which Schools are “Beating the Odds?”

In The View from the OEP on November 13, 2019 at 1:06 pm

Today we share our final OEP awards, and discuss how (and why) our awards are different from the rewards given last Friday by the state.

We are so excited to release our “Beating the Odds” Outstanding Educational Performance Awards  for 2019!  These special OEP awards are for schools whose students are demonstrating high academic growth despite serving a population where at least 66% of the students participate in the Free/ Reduced Lunch Program, which is based on low household income.  Schools serving such student populations often struggle to demonstrate high academic achievement, and subsequently receive lower letter grades.

Academic growth, however, is less correlated with school poverty rates and we think it is a better reflection of how the school is impacting students. Growth is calculated at the student level, and essentially reflects how much a student has improved his or her score from the prior year compared to what was predicted based on prior achievement history. While poverty can negatively impact student success, the schools awarded today demonstrate that their students are “Beating the Odds”  The highlights are below, and you can read the full report here.

The OEP Awards highlight schools in Arkansas based on student growth on the ACT Aspire exams in Mathematics and English Language Arts (ELA). We choose to give OEP Awards based on student growth because we think it is the best indicator of how the school is impacting students’ learning.

Although school-level growth scores are much less related to the percentage of students at a school who are participating in Free/Reduced Lunch than achievement scores, a negative correlation does exist (-0.21).  This means that students at schools serving higher poverty populations are more likely than their peers at more affluent schools to demonstrate less academic growth than predicted. As can be seen in the scatter plot below, schools with higher FRL rates are more likely to receive lower growth scores.

Figure 1. Combined Content Growth Score by School % FRL, Arkansas Public Schools, 2019

2019 Scatter Plot

If we limit the plot to only those schools with at least 66% of students participating in FRL, as presented in Figure 2, the relationship between poverty and growth essentially disappears. Although all of these schools are serving high poverty populations, there is wide variation in the amount of academic growth that students at the schools are demonstrating.

Figure 2. Combined Content Growth Score by School % FRL, High-Poverty Arkansas Public Schools, 2019

2019 Poverty Scatter Plot

We celebrate the state using this student-level growth model, and are pleased to be able to highlight how students are growing academically in schools across the state.  We hope that drawing attention to this growth information will spark discussions among stakeholders about the ways to ensure that all schools are growing the knowledge of Arkansas’ students.

“Beating the Odds” Elementary Level Schools

The top “Beating the Odds” elementary school overall is Salem Elementary from Salem School District.  Despite serving a student population that is 67% eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch, Salem Elementary students are among the top 5 schools that have demonstrated the greatest growth in the state on the ACT Aspire. Many of these top 10 Beating the Odds schools were also among the high growth elementary schools in the state, regardless of student demographics. The top 10 elementary schools that are beating the odds are:

  1. Salem Elementary, Salem SD (67% FRL)*
  2. Weiner Elementary, Harrisburg SD (68% FRL)
  3. Oscar Hamilton Elementary, Foreman SD (71% FRL)**
  4. Cross County Elementary Tech Academy, Cross County SD (73% FRL)*
  5. Lamar Elementary, Lamar SD (72% FRL)
  6. Des Arc Elementary, Des Arc SD (75% FRL)
  7. Frank Tillery Elementary, Rogers SD (70% FRL)
  8. Green Forest Elementary, Green Forest SD (86% FRL)**
  9. George Elementary, Springdale SD (86% FRL)
  10. Bismark Elementary, Bismark SD (72% FRL)**

**Schools with two asterisks were included in the top 10 list for the last two years, while *schools with a single asterisk were on the list one of the last two years.

You can find the top BTO elementary schools by subject and region in the full report.

“Beating the Odds” Middle Level Schools

Paragould Junior High from Paragould School District is the top middle school beating the odds overall. Paragould JH serves a 7th-8th grade student population where 71% of students are eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch, and was third among the high growth middle schools in the state, regardless of student demographics.  The top 10 middle schools that are beating the odds are:

  1. Paragould Junior High, Paragould SD (71% FRL)**
  2. Oak Grove Middle, Paragould SD (76% FRL)**
  3. Swifton Middle, Jackson Co. SD (66% FRL)
  4. Helen Tyson Middle, Springdale SD (76% FRL)*
  5. Atkins Middle, Atkins SD (68% FRL)
  6. Cedarville Middle, Cedarville SD (73% FRL)**
  7. Pleasant View Campus, Mulberry/Pleasant View Bi-County Schools (77% FRL)*
  8. Harrisburg Middle, Harrisburg SD (74% FRL)
  9. Yerger Junior High, Hope SD (80% FRL)
  10. Beryl Henry Upper Elementary, Hope SD (89% FRL)**

**Schools with two asterisks were included in the top 10 list for the last two years, while *schools with a single asterisk were on the list one of the last two years.


You can find the top BTO middle schools by subject and region in the full report.

“Beating the Odds” High Schools

The top high school beating the odds is Flippin High in Flippin School District.  Despite serving a student population that is 69% eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch, it is also among OEP’s top 10 high growth high schools throughout the state.  Flippin High students are demonstrating that they can achieve at levels similar to students who come from higher income communities. The top 10 high schools that are beating the odds are:

  1. Flippin High, Flippin SD (69% FRL)
  2. Hazen High, Hazen SD (70% FRL)
  3. Maynard High, Maynard SD (69% FRL)*
  4. St. Joe K-12, Ozark Mountain SD (73% FRL)
  5. Barton High, Barton-Lexa SD (85% FRL)
  6. Jasper High, Jasper SD (70% FRL)
  7. Gosnell High, Gosnell (67% FRL)**
  8. Decatur High, Decatur SD (72% FRL)
  9. Cave City High Career & Collegiate Preparatory, Cave City SD (77% FRL)*
  10. Sparkman High, Harmony Grove (Ouachita) SD (73% FRL)

**Schools with two asterisks were included in the top 10 list for the last two years, while *schools with a single asterisk were on the list one of the last two years.

You can find the top BTO high schools by subject and region in the full report.

Congratulations to all the OEP “Beating the Odds” award winners!  Keep up the great work and we look forward to recognizing you again next year!

How are OEP awards different from the state rewards that were announced last week?

1) Part of the state rewards go to high-achieving schools, where a lot of students scored well on the state tests. These schools tend to serve a lower population of students facing academic risk factors poverty or second language acquisition.

OEP only awards schools for growth, because we think that it is a better reflection of how the school is impacting students.

2) The part of the state rewards that are awarded for growth use a different measure than the OEP awards.  The rewards program uses the growth value that also includes the progress being made in English language proficiency, a value called the combined value-added growth score. The difference between the values is inconsistent, with the content growth value higher for some schools and the combined value-added value higher for other schools.

OEP awards are based on improvement in the content areas of Mathematics and English Language Arts (ELA) assessments only. 

3) The state rewards program for growth includes graduation rate for high schools.

OEP awards do not include graduation rate, and are based on improvement in the content areas of Mathematics and English Language Arts (ELA) assessments only. 

4) The state rewards program rewards the top 10% of schools overall.

OEP awards are grouped by ESSA school level (Elementary, Middle, and High). We know that achievement and growth vary by school level and are concerned that middle schools demonstrating relatively high growth are not being rewarded by the state. In fact, only two middle schools were recognized in the top 5% growth/grad awards by the state.  See a further discussion here.

The differences between the state rewards program and OEP awards are due to the fact that the state rewards are legislatively mandated, while here at OEP, we created an awards system that supports our passion for highlighting schools where students demonstrate Oustanding Educational Progress!  Oh, and we don’t send money- just paper certificates!