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!



%d bloggers like this: