University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Hey School Board: Is Your District Successful?

In The View from the OEP on December 6, 2017 at 12:27 pm


Here at OEP we think an informed school board is critical to the success of students in the district, so we are looking forward to presenting at the Arkansas School Boards Association annual meeting tomorrow in Little Rock.   Our presentation, “Is Your District Successful? Do You Have Proof?” is built to provide a road map for determining if your district is getting the job done.

Although sometimes folks think that the school board’s attention should be limited to the financial aspects of the district, under Arkansas law A.C.A § 6-13-620 (2012), school boards are tasked with several responsibilities, two of which are:

  • “Understand and oversee school district finances required by law to ensure alignment with the school district’s academic and facility needs and goals” and
  • “Do all other things necessary and lawful for the conduct of efficient free public schools in the school district”

So, school boards need to conduct EFFICIENT free public schools, or schools that achieve maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense. To determine if their schools are efficient, school boards need to examine both the inputs (financial resources supporting learning) and the outcomes (such as academic achievement, student growth, and graduation rate).

But how do school boards know if the community is getting a good return on the investments they are making?  Primarily, the board needs to determine a reasonable comparison group of districts to get a reasonable frame of reference for efficiency.

How do you pick which districts make a good comparison group? In our experience,  there is rarely a perfect match.  So here at the OEP, we choose districts about the same size with a similar percentage of students eligible for free or reduced lunch (FRL).  We focus these two characteristics because the percentage of students eligible for FRL is a proxy for students academically at risk, and in many of our analyses district size impacts academic outcomes.

We suggest you pick 5-8 districts that ‘look like’ yours- You can find this information here and easily sort the results based on:

1) Enrollment: Select a few districts that are slightly larger and a few that are slightly smaller.

2) % Eligible for Free or Reduced Lunch (FRL): Select a few districts that have higher FRL and a few that have lower.  Stay as close as you can- but ideally within a 10 percentage point difference above or below.

3) % Limited English Proficient (LEP): If you are one of the 90% of the districts in Arkansas that enrolls 10% or fewer LEP students, you don’t need to consider this, but if your district more that 10% English Language learners, you may want to consider this in your match since these students may face unique academic risks.

Sometimes districts want to be compared to who they play in football, or who is in their region, or who is down the street.  That’s fine, but START with similar districts.

Compare Inputs:

School boards may want to start by considering the inputs, or investments being made into the school district.

Here at the OEP, we suggest comparing per-pupil revenue, per-pupil expenditure (total and net current) and per-pupil instruction expenditures. You can access the data here, and put them in a chart like the one below.  It helps the interpretation to order the districts from greatest %FRL to least %FRL.


We see that our ‘home’ district (represented by the gray bar) has a lower per-pupil revenue than similar districts, is spending average amounts per pupil overall, but is spending the least of comparison districts on instruction per pupil.

Another key input that the district will want to consider is teacher salary. The most recent teacher salary scales for each district are available here. Last week, the OEP released a report examining several comparisons of teacher salary (read the blog) and you can access the salary measures data here.

teacher salary

We see that our ‘home’ district is paying competitive salaries overall, so should be able to attract and retain quality teachers.

School boards should also consider comparing to similar districts on Student: Teacher Ratio, to determine if staffing is comparable.  We find that increasing student teachers ratio (even by one student) can allow more resources to fund higher teacher salaries.

Compare Outcomes:

School boards should also examine the outcomes of students in their districts. A key academic outcome is the percentage of students meeting grade level expectations on annual assessments.

Use ACT Aspire district-level data to compare student performance in ELA, Math, and Science.  You can access these data here, and put them in a chart like the one below.  It helps the interpretation to order the districts from greatest %FRL to least %FRL.  Interestingly, in this example, the district with the greatest % FRL (represented by the far left hand bar) often scores higher than districts serving fewer at-risk students.

ACT Aspire

Unfortunately, we see that our ‘home’ district (represented by the gray bar) has a lower percentage of students Meeting or Exceeding Expectations on the ACT Aspire than comparison districts of a similar size and serving similar rates of at-risk students.

Other outcome data that school boards should consider comparing to similar districts are:

  • NEW!  Just released yesterday from Stanford- see how your district’s student growth compares.  You can type in the name of your district in the box near the bottom of the article and check it out (more on this in next week’s blog)!
  • Student growth and school letter grades: Here at the OEP, we like to compare how much kids are growing in schools.
  • ACT: Now that all districts are testing all 11th graders, the results are comparable between districts, and we like the “percentage meeting readiness benchmark” as the indicator.
  • High school graduation rates: Since this measure has in been place for a while, we suggest looking at three years of graduation rates, for the overall population and for students at-risk (TAGG)
  • College-going rates: (NOTE: this rate only reflects graduates that go to school in state- you can read our thoughts about that here)


After examining a variety of inputs and outcomes for the school district, school boards should ask themselves: Are the schools achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense? 

If the answer is ‘No’, it is the board’s task to instigate change.

Developing a strategic plan will mean getting deeper understanding of where the challenges are, identifying clear, measurable (and reasonable) goals for the district, and making necessary changes to support the achievement of those goals. Turns out, focusing on the finances may not ensure that students in your district are getting the education the community expects.

Let us know how we can help!




Arkansas’s Teacher Salaries

In The View from the OEP on November 29, 2017 at 1:17 pm

teacher pay

Are teacher salaries in Arkansas higher or lower than in other states?

Which districts pay better than others in the same area?

Are certain types of districts more likely to pay higher teacher salaries?

How can lower-paying districts find revenue to increase teacher salaries? 

Here at the OEP, we have been asking these questions and are pleased to release our analysis of Arkansas teacher salaries! Both the Policy Brief and the Full Report include information about how Arkansas teacher salaries compare nationally, to other southern states, and to the states that border us. We also examine differences in teacher salary by region and what district characteristics are most associated with higher average teacher salaries.

Here’s what we found:

Are teacher salaries in Arkansas higher or lower than in other states?

When you do a straight comparison across the country, Arkansas’s average teacher salary of $48,220 ranks 40th out of the 51 states (including D.C.).  The highest average teacher salary of nearly $78,000 is paid to teachers in New York. Compared to the states surrounding us, Arkansas’s average teacher salary ranks 3rd (out of 7- including us).

As you pack your bags to follow that high salary, you should remember that it will cost a lot more to live in New York.  We thought about that too, and adjusted the average teacher salaries in each state by the cost of living.  Arkansas’ cost of living is below average, so the adjusted average teacher salary of $54,733 is pretty close to New York’s adjusted salary of salary of $58,307 (plus, there’s less traffic here, which should count for something!). After adjusting for cost of living, Arkansas’s average teacher salary ranks 20th in the country.  Arkansas’s cost of living adjusted salary is 2nd highest among the surrounding states.

Another way to examine the ‘value’ of the average teacher salary is to compare it to what other folks in the state earn.  We find that the average teacher in Arkansas earns 117% of Arkansas’s median household income.  This Median Income index ranks Arkansas’s teacher salary 7th highest in the country! You might want to keep packing though, because the average teacher in New York earns 132% of the median household income in NY, and take the top ranking in the nation. Compared to the surrounding states, however, Arkansas ranks #1 on this salary measure.

Here at OEP, we think the cost of living adjusted measure may be the most meaningful method for comparing teacher salaries, and we were excited to see how competitive the state’s teacher salaries are, especially when compared with neighboring states.

Which districts pay better than others in the same area?

We conducted a bunch of analysis examining teacher salary within and between regions of the state, and found that there are wide variations in what the average teacher earns. Regionally, teachers in the Central region of the state earn the highest salaries with an average salary in 2015-16 of $52,230, but Springdale School District in the Northwest region was the district that paid the highest average salary in the state at $59,143.

Located in the same region as Springdale, Mulberry’s average teacher salary was $35,460, indicating that the average teacher in Mulberry earned nearly $24,000 less per year than Springdale’s average teacher.

A quick check of ADE’s myschoolinfo shows that there are differences between the districts in the average teacher’s years of experience.  The average teacher in Springdale has 11.6 years of experience, compared to Mulberry’s 4.4 years. Since teacher salary generally increases with additional years of experience, we wondered if that was what was causing the difference?

We used district-level salary scales to compare what the average salary would be in each district if they all employed teachers with the same levels of experience and education. As opposed to the average teacher salary, which is directly effected by the experience and education of the teachers hired by the district, this “Scale Salary” identifies districts with the most (and least) ‘generous’ salaries overall.

Using this scaled measure, Springdale is the most ‘generous’ district in the Northwest region, although the average scale salary of $53,343 is lower that the raw average salary (reflecting that the raw average is inflated by higher than typical teacher experience and education levels). Mulberry’s average scale salary, on the other hand, increased to $36,417 and is not the ‘least generous’ district in the region.

Well, then we thought about the high teacher salaries in New York, and that maybe it costs more to live in some communities than others. Unfortunately, cost of living data are not available at the district level, so we used median household income instead. Under this measure, Springdale teachers earn 130% of the median income in the county, while Mulberry teachers earn only 82%.

You can see the full list of districts and the key salary measures in excel here.

Are certain types of districts more likely to pay higher teacher salaries?

Throughout the state, the scaled salary reduced the differences in average teacher salary, but substantial variations in pay teacher remained.  The median income of the counties also informed the salary discrepancies, but given that districts all receive the same per-pupil funding from the state (read more here), we wondered WHY districts were paying teachers such different salaries?

So, we did what we do and ran some analyses to determine if certain district characteristics. You can read the nitty-gritty details in the full report, but here’s what we found:

Student-teacher ratio and total district enrollment had the most significant, positive impact on average teacher salary. Per-pupil expenditure had a significant, but modestly positive impact on salary. In contrast, the percent of students who are eligible for free and reduced lunch (FRL) had a significantly negative impact on teacher salary.

In practical terms:

  • Increasing student-teacher ratio would be expected to have the largest impact on teacher salary. In a district that employs 50 teachers, if each teacher’s class was increased by one student, the average teacher salary would be expected to increase by about $1,815, holding all other factors equal.
  • Increasing district enrollment would be expected to have a small impact on average teacher salary. While perhaps more difficult to increase, an increase in district enrollment of 100 students would raise average teacher salary by an estimated $53, holding all other district characteristics constant.
  • Increasing per-pupil spending by $100 is associated with a $102 increase to average teacher salary, holding other factors constant.
  • The impact of a 16% increase in district FRL results in approximately a $1,420 decrease in annual teacher salary.

School district leaders cannot control the number or the type of students who enroll in the district,  and they may be unable to increase per-pupil spending.  Student-teacher ratio, however, is something that districts can adjust. District leaders have control over the number of teachers they hire, and therefore the number of students for which each teacher is responsible

Consider our example of Springdale and Mulberry. Springdale enrolls over 20,000 students, while Mulberry serves fewer than 350. The percentage of students who are eligible for free/reduced lunch is similar in both districts (71% and 75%, respectively).  According to myschoolinfo, Springdale’s student-teacher ratio is 15 to 1, compared to Mulberry’s student-teacher ratio of 6 to 1. Consider Springdale’s higher average scale salary of $53,343 and Mulberry’s lower average scale salary $36,417. Mulberry teachers actually get paid more per student than their peers in Springdale.

How can lower-paying districts find revenue to increase teacher salaries?

School district leaders have control over the number of teachers they hire, and therefore the number of students for which each teacher is responsible. In an effort for smaller or lower-paying districts to recruit high quality teachers with a competitive salary, they may consider increasing student-teacher ratios within their districts. There is some research to suggest that class sizes no larger than 17 students to a teacher are associated with increased student performance as measured by test scores, and it is worth noting that student-teacher ratio may not represent class size because districts may employ ‘teachers’ who do not work in a classroom with specific students.

The overall student-teacher ratio within the state of Arkansas is 11 students per teacher, and much smaller in some districts. Increasing the student-teacher ratio is one way that local school districts could re-capture revenue to use to increase average teacher salary. Each district has the opportunity and responsibility to establish their local salary scale and ensure that it is attracting and retaining high-quality teachers for their students.


November Education Committee Meeting — Little Rock, AR

In The View from the OEP on November 22, 2017 at 12:05 pm

ar legislature

The educational sub-committee met on November 20th to discuss current issues in Arkansas education.  The bipartisan group meets regularly to create discussion, study research, and pass legislation to help the educational system in Arkansas grow stronger to support the diverse needs of the youth.  The agenda for the meeting showcases the wide array of topics discussed in the open session.

Prior to the approval of the minutes from the previous meeting, the floor was open for Senators and Representatives to discuss trips or conferences attended that recently occurred to learn more about education.  A recent trip to Germany was discussed in which their “apprenticeship” programs were studied in order to gain better understanding of their success.  While no specific programs or practices were discussed in this forum, it was clear that “business is the driving force of their educational system.”  The needs of the community, work force, and business at-large guides the decisions made for the development youth.

Too Much Paperwork? 

Senator Chesterfield submitted a request for an ISP (Interim Study Proposal) to study the correlation between excessive paperwork for teachers and teachers leaving the profession.  She had heard from administrators in her district about quality teachers that are leaving the profession due to large amounts of energy spent on routine administrative tasks that are distracting from their role in education.  Other comments and questions asked about other leading factors that are currently cited as causes of teacher attrition led the committee to make sure the language of the ISP was broad enough to find other data points.  There is strong evidence nationally from exit surveys regarding student behavior, lack of administrative support, and overall behavioral health being leading causes of attrition as well, according to comments from committee members.  The ISP was approved with no votes in opposition.

Learning from the “Top 10”

Senator Joyce Elliott shared her findings from the NCSL International study group. (National Conference of State Legislatures) in which they observed the activities, protocols, and patterns of the “Top 10” academic countries in the world.  She stressed the importance of every individual state in America needs to focus on steps to joining nations on that list.  The bipartisan study group was designed to find solutions to shared problems specific to education.  She gave a brief overview of the history of the NCSL and its mission.  She also discussed the history of education pitting nations against nations (i.e. “The Space Race”), rather than working together and with collaboration.  The nations studied were Ontario, Alberta, Estonia, Finland, Hong Kong, Japan, Poland, Shanghai, Singapore, and Taiwan.)

Comparison of Arkansas as well as the USA against educational outcomes in any of those 10 countries indicates a vast discrepancy.  Senator Elliott’s presentation cites the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) findings that America is showing little to no progress within key educational objectives.  The presentation debunked myths that are circulated as to why this might be occurring, like the argument that other countries only educate/assess their “best students.”  Senator Elliott indicated that no matter which population group America is compared to, the findings are the same (i.e. America’s best students vs. other countries’ best students, poorest students vs. poorest students, etc.).   Senator Elliott also spoke to the myth of America serving more immigrants that most countries while other countries in the Top 10 have higher numbers of immigrant populations.

The key lessons shared in the learning from other countries was that there was a laser focus on “where they wanted to be” as a country.  They made decisions, funding, and legislation with this focus in mind.  Initiatives and projects outside of this focus simply did not proceed.  Senator Elliott shared how this focus along with aligned assessment towards achievement of these goals led countries to increased success.

Senator Elliott also discussed that most countries do not view “career tech” as a lesser form of higher education.  She indicated that it is a viable pathway for learners that is held in high regard in the educational systems.

Senator Elliott shared that “If American did not compete in the Olympics, we would lose our minds.  What would happen if we had the same view of education.”   She spoke of the findings that other countries embrace diversity and practice equity.  They do not treat each student or organization equally, but they give each what is needed to support them.  There is also a strong belief among educators in high-performing countries that “equity” starts at birth, not the first day of school.

She closed with questions and comments supporting the finding of the study.  She gave the example of each component of the educational system that is a focused part of the study’s findings being like vital organs in the human body.  They must work together and have different jobs, but they are all equally important and impossible to function without one.

Full findings of the “No Time to Lose” study can be read here.

The “Indifference” Project

The committee heard from an Arkansas English teacher, Michael Hensley, on his annual class project at Alma High School.  This served as an example and highlighted the higher-level instructional practices around the state.   Representative Douglas spoke in favor of the teacher as she has worked with his class on this project.  He served students in her district, and he spoke highly of the support she has shown him.

Michael Hensley sought an activity that would engage his students in real-world challenges while still following the pace and content objectives within Arkansas curriculum.  He developed an open-ended project that allowed students to “choose something that is so important to them, that they cannot be indifferent about it.”  Then, through the project, the students are able to research, plan, and put into action a plan to create awareness.   While the project is still on-going, Hensley reports seeing strong levels of participation on a wide array of topics and interests.

This project was first highlighted with a student’s idea becoming a bill signed into law in April 2017.

Discussion of the Annual Report from the School Leadership Coordinating Council

Mr. David Cook, the Chair of the School Leadership Coordinating Council and the Director of the Arkansas Leadership Academy opened the session by introducing the annual report process.  (Download PowerPoint).

Program Lead Blaine Alexander and Research Specialist Jennifer Medeiros led the findings from the past year regarding their “Theory of Change” and “Strategic Plan Cycle”.  They seek to use a 4-point assessment scale to find the “current reality” of a school organization, and then they can develop a specific plan.  They understand the importance of creating systems changes, not just trainings for one part of the educational system.  They train superintendents, teachers, principals, and other educational stakeholders.

Superintendents Thelma Forte (Mineral Springs) and Jerrod Williams (Sheridan) spoke about their experiences and learnings in the Academy.  They felt that their success now as leaders can be attributed to the education and coaching they received in their past attendance in the Academy.