University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

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What’s Driving Teachers’ Strikes

In The View from the OEP on February 20, 2019 at 10:58 am

The op-ed re-posted below was written by new OEP faculty member Josh McGee (@jbmcgee on Twitter) and appeared in Monday’s USA Today. The piece argues that school budgets are being squeezed by large numbers of new staff and rising benefits costs. Paying for all those new people and their increasingly expensive benefits is leaving less money to effectively pay teachers. The re-posted version below includes Arkansas specific data in indented brackets.

Teachers strike for higher pay because administration and benefits take too much money

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In Denver on Feb. 11, 2019. (Photo11: David Zalubowski/AP)

U.S. public schools administrative staff and rising benefits costs are squeezing school budgets nationwide.

Not long after Los Angeles’ teachers have returned to work after a six-day strike last month, more than 5,000 teachers in Colorado’s largest school district went on strike demanding higher pay. The Denver strike was resolved after three days, but it’s likely that this is just the beginning of teacher activism in 2019. Teachers in California, West Virginia and Virginia are gearing up to fight. As the legislative season gets rolling, teacher pay and education funding are hot topics in statehouses across the country.

Given all this it would be easy to believe, as many do, that America’s schools are starved of funding. But that argument doesn’t fully match the data. While there is variation across states, school funding has increased dramatically over the past 40 years.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, inflation-adjusted per-pupil spending on public education has more than doubled since the 1970s.

[Arkansas’ spending per pupil has grown faster than the national trend over the last 40 years. Inflation adjusted spending per pupil has more than tripled from $3,356 in 1969-70 to $10,310 in 2015-16. However, Arkansas’ per pupil spending is still well below the national average of $12,330]

So why all the unrest? To answer that, we need to take a look at how all that new money has been spent.

The first part of the answer is that U.S. public schools have added large numbers of instructional, administrative and support staff over the past four decades. Student-teacher ratios have decreased from 22 to 1 in 1970 to about 16 to 1 today. And since 2000, the number of public school administrators has increased more than five times faster than student enrollment, a fact that has not gone unnoticed by labor leaders.

[While the NCES doesn’t report data for Arkansas going back to 1970, the state’s student-teacher ratio has decreased slightly from 14.1 in 2000 to 13.7 in 2015. Arkansas’ student-teacher ratio is below the national average likely because of the state’s large number of rural schools.

NCES also does not report a state-level time series for staffing, but in 2015, district administrators and school principals made up 3.3 percent of all Arkansas public school staff, which is slightly below the national average of 3.9 percent.]

In his letter announcing the strike, Denver Classroom Teachers Association President, Henry Roman wrote, “DPS has made its choice to keep critical funding in central administration, and not to apply more of those funds to the classroom where they would provide the greatest benefit for student learning.”

As part of the deal to end the strike in Denver, the district agreed to cut 150 administrative positions and eliminate large administrator bonuses.

Teachers who made up about 60 percent of all public school staff in 1970 now make up less than half, despite there being more than a million more teachers in today’s classrooms. More employees means that the budget pie is divided more times, leaving fewer dollars for each individual teacher’s pay.

[As with other staffing data, the NCES doesn’t report state-level data going back to 1970. However, teachers as percentage of all public school staff has decreased in Arkansas from 50.6 percent in 2000 to 48.6 in 2015.]

Money is going toward paying down debt now

At the same time, rising benefits costs are squeezing school budgets nationwide. While average inflation-adjusted teacher salaries have been relatively stagnant since 1990, benefits costs have risen from 16.8 percent of expenditures in 1990 to 23 percent of today’s much larger expenditure base.

[National average inflation-adjusted teacher salaries decreased by around 2 percent between 1990 and 2017, but in Arkansas they increased by approximately 14 percent. However, Arkansas’ average teacher salary is still about $10,000 below the national average – $48,616 vs $58,950.

Arkansas’ schools spend a lower percentage of their budgets on employee benefits, 19 percent, than the national average.]

More recently, the growth of retirement costs — in particular, payments to cover unfunded benefits earned by teachers for past service — has placed pressure on school budgets. Almost every state increased teachers’ retirement benefits in the booming 1990s. But the additional promises were not accompanied by responsible funding plans. Over-funded at the turn of the millennium, by 2003, teacher pension plans were collectively short by $235 billion. By 2009, pension debt had more than doubled, to $584 billion.

The strong bull market since the Great Recession has not put a dent in the shortfall, which now totals well more than $600 billion. As a result of pension-funding shortfalls, retirement costs per pupil have more than doubled since 2004, from about $530 to more than $1,300 today.

[Arkansas has done a better job than most states managing its teachers’ retirement system (ATRS), and as a result ATRS is better funded and its costs have not risen as much as the average teachers’ plan. For a more thorough discussion of the teacher retirement system’s finances, see our previous blog post here.]

Retirement costs now exceed 10 percent of all education expenditures on average across the country. Unfortunately, the majority of these contributions do not benefit teachers in today’s classrooms because roughly 70 percent of retirement contributions are going to pay down debt rather than for new benefits.

[Retirement costs now make up around 8 percent of Arkansas education expenditures. ATRS is 79 percent funded, and approximately 57 percent of the state’s annual contribution goes to pay down pension debt.]

Growing retirement costs for these legacy-benefit promises pose a challenge for many school districts to maintain their current level of services, much less to hire new teachers and support staff or give high-quality teachers a pay raise.

What protected teachers once is a danger now

Rising benefits costs are a big part of the L.A. school district’s budget woes, limiting funds available to meet the demands of the teachers’ union for more pay and support staff. That helps explain why teachers there settled for little more than was on the bargaining table when they chose to strike.

While the L.A. district has a $1.8 billion budget surplus today, it’s burning through it at an alarming rate, and rising benefits costs are much to blame. By the 2031-32 school year, the district expects to spend more than 50 percent of its budget on health care and pensions.

Even in Texas, considered by many to be a bastion of fiscal conservatism, pension debt has ballooned. The state and school districts now owe the Teacher Retirement System $46.2 billion in benefits that teachers have already earned, a total that is roughly equivalent to all of the state’s other debt combined.

[At the end of the 2018 fiscal year, Arkansas’ total long-term debt payable for bonds, capital leases, and notes was $3.9 billion. The state and its school districts owe ATRS $4.2 billion for benefits that teachers have already earned, a total that is slightly higher than all of the state’s other debt combined.]

To be sure, there is no immediate national “crisis,” insofar as most teacher pension plans are not on the brink of failure. But it’s clear that the rising cost of benefits that were meant to protect teachers is now endangering teacher pay and larger school funding in a way that was never anticipated. Indeed, school districts will likely be seeing red for some time — both at rallies and in their budgets.

Josh B. McGee, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, is a research assistant professor in the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas. Follow him on Twitter: @jbmcgee

Who’s Using Act 173?

In The View from the OEP on February 13, 2019 at 11:30 am

Today we look into who is enrolling in public schools under Act 173, which allows home school and private school students to enroll in their local school district. School districts are reimbursed by the state for one-sixth of the foundation funding amount per course in which the student enrolls (about $1,100 in 2017-18).  The Act was passed two years ago, and permits, but does not require, school districts to participate in the program. So we got to wondering, who is using Act 173 to enroll in public schools? We looked into it, and share our findings below.  You can read more in the associated policy brief.

How many students are enrolling in districts under Act 173?

Using data from 2017-18, the first year in which home school and private school students were eligible to enroll under the Act, we found that only 95 students enrolled in at least one course in their local district under Act 173.  This amounts to 0.02% of the public school population.

Are students who enroll under the Act demographically different from the public school population as a whole?

Figure 1. Demographic Differences Between Act 173 and District Public School Students, 2017-18

Figure1_Act173

We found that a greater proportion of Act 173 students were White and a smaller proportion of them were Black or Hispanic compared to regularly-enrolled district
students. While 86.3% of all Act 173 district students were White, only 55.9% of all regularly-enrolled Arkansas public school students were White. In contrast, only 5.3%
and 3.2% of Act 173 students were Black or Hispanic respectively, while 25.5% and 13.1% of the overall Arkansas public school population reported those racial identities.

Interestingly, Act 173 students were significantly more likely to report having a disability than public school students as a whole. Overall, 35.8% of all Act 173 district students reported having a disability compared to just 13.7% of regularly-enrolled district students, a difference of 22 percentage points. Of the Act 173 students reporting a disability, the vast majority (30/34) reported having a speech or language impairment.

No students identified as Limited English Proficient (LEP) enrolled in district schools through Act 173, compared to 8.5% of regularly-enrolled district students that are
identified as LEP.

Are Act 173 students concentrated in particular grade levels?

Yes!  Act 173 students disproportionately enrolled in high schools. Forty-four students
used Act 173 to enroll in a total of 23 district high schools in the 2017-18 school year. Twenty-five Act 173 students enrolled in either middle school or junior high and 26 used the program to enroll in elementary schools. Middle/junior high students enrolled in 15 different schools, whereas elementary students enrolled in only five schools, with the vast majority (21) enrolling in Baseline Elementary in Little Rock.

Figure 2. Number of Act 173 Schools and Students, by Level, 2017-18

Figure2_Act173

Are certain geographic regions more likely to enroll students under Act 173?

Actually, as a share of the public school population, Act 173 students are fairly equally distributed around the regions of the state. Most Act 173 students enrolled
in schools in either Central Arkansas (34 students,or 35.8% of all Act 173 students) or Northwest Arkansas (31, 32.6%). By district, the greatest number of Act 173 students enrolled in a school in Little Rock (25, 26.3%).  Central and Northwest Arkansas are the
largest education regions by total number of public school students, with
142,932 and 172,634 students, respectively.

Figure 3. Number and Share of Act 173 Students, by Region, 2017-18

Figure3_Act173

What type of districts enroll Act 173 students?

Given that Act 173 benefits districts by allowing them to serve more families in the community while also increasing district resources,we found it interesting that only 35 of Arkansas’s 227 traditional school districts enrolled any students under Act 173 during the 2017-18 school year. According to the latest data available, there are over 24,000 students enrolled in private schools in Arkansas, and over 20,000 students being home schooled in the state. That is over 44,000 students that districts could be serving under Act 173!

District size was an important factor in predicting Act 173 participation. A district with enrollment one standard deviation above the mean (that is, roughly 4,700 students) was approximately three percentage points more likely to have students enrolled using Act 173 relative to a district at mean enrollment. Larger districts are generally in areas with a larger number of private and home schooled students who might benefit from Act 173.  These larger districts also offer more distinct courses that might attract such students.  However, only three of Arkansas’ ten largest school districts (Little Rock, Pulaski, and Fayetteville) reported enrolling any Act 173 students during the 2017-18 school year.

Table 1: Ten Largest School Districts with no Student Enrollment Under Act 173, 2017-18

Table1_Act173

Here at OEP, we think Act 173 is a great opportunity for private and home school students to gain value from attending a public school, and enrolling these students enhances the districts through additional revenue and broader community engagement.

Recommendations!

Although fewer than 100 students enrolled in public schools under Act 173 in the first year, we anticipate increased participation in the years to come, and have some suggestions for things that would increase participation.

1. Promote Act 173 Enrollment. The Act is designed to benefit students, by providing them access to more courses, and districts, by allowing them to serve additional students in their community and receive more resources. However, only a small number of students used the Act to enroll in courses in their zoned district in the first year. The modest initial enrollment in the program could be because families lack awareness of this opportunity, because demand for district courses by home and private schooled students is modest, or because districts have not elected to participate in Act 173.

Education officials in Arkansas should encourage districts to be more proactive in promoting these opportunities to private and home school students living in their   district. They also should encourage districts to announce on their websites if they are or are not seeking to serve more children in their community through Act 173.

2. Highlight Available Resources. Demand for Act 173 enrollment is particularly
strong among students with disabilities. Districts should highlight the resources they have available and the services they offer to support such students.

3. Provide Supplemental Funding. The students with disabilities making use of Act 173 tend to be more resource-intensive to educate than the average district student. As a result, Arkansas education officials should explore ways to provide supplemental funding to districts enrolling such students to offset potential challenges. Changing special education funds so that they are tied to specific students, instead of wrapping general funding into the matrix, is something that we have addressed previously, and we feel it is a more equitable way of providing resources to students who need them the most.

4. Expand Student Choices. Act 173 does not allow students to enroll in a school
outside of the district in which they live. Additional students could benefit from this Act if nearby districts offered more attractive courses and they were able to enroll in them through a combination of Act 173 and the Public School Choice program. Better alignment between those two “consumer choice” initiatives would expand opportunities for students and districts while also providing state officials with a demand-driven measure of district school quality.

 

We look forward to bringing you more information about Act 173 enrollment as the data become available. Stay tuned!

Thoughts on Arkansas’ Teacher Retirement System

In The View from the OEP on February 6, 2019 at 11:38 am

This week, we are pleased to announce that Dr. Josh McGee has joined the team at OEP! McGee’s policy and research expertise will enhance OEP’s capacity to help policy makers and education leaders make evidence-informed decisions to improve Arkansas’ public education system.  Today, Dr. McGee shares his thoughts on Arkansas’ Teacher Retirement System.


Over the past two decades teacher retirement benefits have been a significant topic of conversation in statehouses across the country. For a number of reasons, including longer lifespans and lower than expected investment returns, teachers’ retirement benefits in Arkansas and nationally are turning out to be more expensive than policy makers had expected. School districts and state governments have not been putting aside enough each year to fully cover the cost of the benefits their teachers have earned, and as a result, unfunded liabilities, or pension debt, has grown dramatically, as has the cost of paying down this debt.

EDRE’s own Robert Costrell has an excellent graph illustrating the rising cost of teachers’ pensions. On average in the U.S., the cost of retirement benefits per pupil has grown by nearly two and a half times since 2004 from $530 to $1,312 today. Teacher retirement costs now make up more than 10% of all education expenditures, and because retirement costs have increased faster than education budgets, in many places they are crowding out schools’ ability to increase pay, purchase supplies, adequately maintain buildings, etc. (see reports here and here). In response to rising retirement costs, nearly every state has reduced teachers’ benefits and/or increase their contributions. The majority of state’s and district’s annual contributions, around 70 cents out of every dollar contributed, now goes to pay down pension debt rather than to pay for new benefits earned by today’s teachers.

The good news is that while Arkansas’ teacher retirement system (ATRS) has faced similar challenges as other public pension plans, it is in better financial shape than the average public plan, and as a result, its costs have not grown nearly as steeply. Below are graphs depicting ATRS’s funding and cost per pupil. As presented in Figure 1, at the end of FY2017, the latest year for which data is available, ATRS was 79% funded with a $4.2 billion pension debt, which is better than the national average of 72% funded for public pension plans.  Although the annual employer cost of Arkansas’ teachers’ retirement benefits has risen by $242 per pupil since 2001, Figure 2 illustrates it is still below the national per pupil average in both dollar terms ($822 vs $1,312 per pupil) and as a percentage of education expenditures (7.9% vs 10.7%).

Figure 1: Arkansas Teacher Retirement System Liabilities, Assets, and Debt, 2001-2017.

Screen Shot 2019-02-06 at 1.37.40 PM

Figure 2: Employer Contributions per Pupil, US and Arkansas, 2001-2017 (Projected through 2023). Graph reposted from Robert Costrell’s testimony before the Arkansas Legislature’s Joint Committee on Retirement on September 11, 2018.

Pension 2 

The fact that ATRS has remained in relatively good shape over the past two decades is a testament to the proactive, responsible steps that policymakers working together with ATRS have taken to keep costs in check while also ensuring a meaningful and secure benefit for the state’s teachers. Having that said, there are still significant risks on the horizon which the state would do well to understand and work to mitigate. Below is a brief discussion of three of the biggest challenges facing ATRS.

First, despite a nearly decade-long bull market since the Great Recession, Arkansas has made limited progress in paying down its pension debt. This is at least partially due to the backloaded repayment schedule (a.k.a. amortization), which is based on the expectation that the payments into the plan will grow by 2.75% annually. Because of this backloading, current contributions are not large enough to cover the interest on the pension debt, so under current funding policy, the debt is expected to grow for the next 10 years before finally declining until it is fully paid off in 29 years. This is akin to paying the minimum on a credit card – yes, you will eventually pay it off, but you’ll end up paying a whole lot more than the original amount and will have less financial resilience over a longer period of time. ATRS has acknowledged the value of accelerating the pension debt repayment schedule to avoid negative amortization, and we strongly recommend that the state consider doing so.

Second, public workers are living longer than public pension plans currently expect, and this is especially true of teachers. That’s what the Society of Actuaries (SOA) found as it works to updated mortality tables for public employees (see news article here and SOA report here). While it’s really awesome that teachers are enjoying longer lives, the cost of retirement benefits is going to go up significantly if/when ATRS updates its mortality assumptions in the next few years. The state and ATRS should formally study changes in public employee mortality based on the SOA’s findings and plan experience, and they should aggressively update the plans mortality assumptions to ensure the state has the most accurate picture of future benefits costs.

Third, the state and ATRS are betting on a 7.5% investment return to finance a huge share of teachers’ retirement benefits. While ATRS recently lowered its return assumption, it is still higher than the national average of 7.4% and much higher than their most sophisticated peers like the teachers’ retirement systems in New York City and California both of which have lowered their assumed return to 7%. The assumed return is important because it is the key ingredient used to estimate how much money the state and districts need to set aside today to fully cover the cost of the benefits owed to teachers when they retire. Using a higher expected return means budgetary costs will be lower today; however, it also means making a bigger bet on the market to cover a larger share of benefits costs over time, and as a result, it significantly increases the risk that contributions will need to rise in the future to make up for investment returns that didn’t materialize. Investment returns falling short of expectations was the single largest factor that contributed to the current pension debt, and returns will continue to be a big driver of teachers’ benefits cost. To provide a sense of scale, ATRS estimates that if the assumed return was lowered by 1 percentage point to 6.5%, which is roughly in line with the recommendations of the Society of Actuaries Blue Ribbon Panel on Public Pension Funding (SOA BRP), then the pension debt would increase by more than $2.5 billion or 60 percent. Given we are likely headed into a period of lower investment returns and the next recession is lurking somewhere in the not too distant future, sticking with a high assumed return places future state and school budgets at significant risk, not to mention teachers’ retirements. The state and ATRS should work together to remove some funding risk by developing a plan to lower the assumed return and increase contributions over time, bringing the assumed return in line with the SOA BRP recomendations.

These three risks are not insurmountable, and Arkansas is certainly not anywhere close to a crisis that requires drastic action. It is very important, however, that the state be vigilant, and seek to address potential issues well before they become larger problems. Like any system that relies on the power of compounding (i.e., exponential growth), problems with ATRS’s funding can get out of hand quickly if allowed to fester. This is why stress testing, as proposed in HB1173, and having formal cost-sharing plan developed in advance are so important. Not performing routine stress testing is like driving without headlights – you may survive, but the potential for unexpected disaster is huge. We recommend that the state adopt stress testing requirements for all of its pension plans, including ATRS, so that policymakers better understand the risks they face down the road and can make plans to navigate effectively through them.

In addition, the importance of planning ahead cannot be overstated. Once a pension plan gets into funding trouble, without an established plan address the problem, de facto cost-sharing will ultimately occur through ad-hoc changes that are almost guaranteed to disproportionately affect certain groups of employees (i.e., new teachers or retirees) and/or taxpayers (i.e., future vs. current). In contrast, a formal cost-sharing plan can distribute unexpected cost increases between taxpayers and employees in a predetermined, fair, and transparent manner. We recommend the state work with its pension plans to more clearly define its funding goals (here is an example from Texas) and the steps that would be taken should the plan experience unexpected cost increases. Additionally, we recommend that any future changes to benefits, like COLAs, or contribution rates should only be made in the context of having a clearly defined funding policy and cost-sharing plan. 

About Josh :

Josh

McGee most recently served as the Executive Vice President of Results-Driven Government at the Laura and John Arnold Foundation where he worked on a diverse set of issues ranging from retirement policy to how we address the national opioid epidemic. McGee is a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and is Chairman of the Texas Pension Review Board. McGee also serves on the boards of several nonprofits including MDRC, EdBuild, and the Equable Institute.

Class Size and Student Academic Growth

In The View from the OEP on January 30, 2019 at 11:36 am

Over the past two weeks, we have been examining relationships between teacher salary and and student outcomes.  We first discussed the proposed increase to Arkansas’ minimum teacher salary, including identifying which districts currently pay the minimum salary scale.  We found little relationship between districts’ starting teacher salaries and either student academic achievement or academic  growth.  Last week, we explored the relationship between teacher salaries and average class size, and this week we wanted to close the loop by examining how class size is related to student academic growth here in Arkansas. You can play with these data on our interactive viz.

Small classes are popular with parents and teachers alike. In a smaller class, we imagine that each student would get more personalized attention from the teacher, leading to greater academic gains. In Arkansas (and elsewhere around the world), however, small classes don’t seem to lead to consistently positive outcomes for students.

Check out the figures below to see the relationship between school average class size and school average academic growth. Because we already know that average class size in Arkansas varies between school levels (elementary has the largest classes, while high schools have the smallest) we broke the visuals out by school level.


In Arkansas elementary schools, average class sizes ranged from 10 to 25 students, and there was a weak correlation between class size and academic growth (r=0.2).  Further analysis, however, revealed that students in schools with larger average class sizes actually demonstrated greater academic growth than their peers in smaller classes! Differences were statistically significant for each of the past two years (the only years for which ESSA growth data are available).

Figure 1. Average class size and average content growth score, by Elementary level schools, 2017-18

es cs growth

In Arkansas middle schools, average class sizes ranged from 5 to 25 students, and there was essentially no relationship between average class size and student growth. Average class size was not a statistically significant predictor of student growth, and results were consistent over the past two years.

Figure 2. Average class size and average content growth score, by Middle level schools, 2017-18

ms cs growth

In Arkansas high schools, average class sizes ranged from 5 to 20 students, and there was essentially no relationship between average class size and student growth. Average class size was not a statistically significant predictor of student growth, and results were consistent over the past two years.

Figure 3. Average class size and average content growth score, by High school level schools, 2017-18

hs cs growth

Then we got to wondering, what if a school had decreased (or increased) class size- how would that relate to changes in academic growth? Our theory would be that if a school reduced the average class size from one year to the next, the average growth of students in the school would increase.

So we calculated the change in school average class size from 2016-17 to 2017-18, and the change in school growth score in that same time, plotted the results, and ran some regressions!

Figure 4 shows the change in average class size and student academic growth score from 2017 to 2018 for elementary schools.  The green square indicates the quadrant where we would imagine schools show up- reduced class sizes and increased growth.  There are some schools there, but there are also some schools in the red square– indicating reduced class size and decreased growth.  You will notice that the majority of schools, however, show up on the left side of the chart, indicating that they increased average class size from one year to the next.

Figure 4. Change in average class size and average content growth score, by Elementary school level schools, 2016-17 to 2017-18

es change

Just eye-balling these elementary schools, you can see that some of these schools experienced an increase in student academic growth, while others demonstrated declines in academic growth from one year to the next.  Further analysis, however, revealed that increasing average class size by one student would result in a reduction of less than 1 point in the change in growth score (holding all other district characteristics constant)!

Figures 5 and 6 show the change in average class size and student academic growth score from 2017 to 2018 for middle and high schools, respectively.  Like the elementary schools, the majority of these schools increased average class sizes, and statistical analysis showed that increasing average class size by one student would result in a reduction of less than half a point in the change in growth score (holding all other district characteristics constant)!

Figure 5. Change in average class size and average content growth score, by Middle level schools, 2016-17 to 2017-18

ms change

Figure 6. Change in average class size and average content growth score, by High school level schools, 2016-17 to 2017-18

hs change

So, what we have learned about average class size is that in Arkansas schools there is not a direct relationship between smaller classes and increased academic achievement.  When class sizes are increased, the negative impact on year to year changes in growth is statistically significant but practically insignificant at all levels because of the extremely small size of the change.

Of course, this is not a causal analysis, and there are many variables that we are not controlling for. One of the major issues is that we are using school-level class sizes and growth scores. If the data were available, analyzing at a classroom level might be better- but would also lead to super small sample sizes which raises other concerns. On the plus side-  we do know that academic growth isn’t correlated with the typical confounding variables like %FRL and school size.

After the research done in our past three blogs, we now know that larger class sizes are associated with increased teacher salaries, and don’t seem to be meaningfully impacting student growth, so school districts should carefully consider staffing patterns.

So what IS associated with increased student achievement?  You know what we think- high quality instruction all day, every day.

 


Regression Details

Elementary:

2016-17:  School average class size significantly predicted school-level academic growth even after controlling for school % FRL, b = .25, t(518) = 4.75, p < .001.  Average class size explained a significant proportion of variance in depression scores, R2 = .12,  F(2, 518) = 63.24, ( p < .001).

2017-18:  School average class size significantly predicted school-level academic growth even after controlling for school % FRL, b = .22, t(518) = 3.77, p < .001.  Average class size explained a significant proportion of variance in depression scores, R2 = .09,  F(2, 518) = 27.83, ( p < .001).

Change: Change in School average class size from 2016-17 to 2017-18 significantly predicted the change in school-level academic growth even after controlling for school % FRL, b = -.30, t(518) = -4.15, p < .001.  Average class size explained a significant proportion of variance in depression scores, R2 = .03,  F(2, 518) = 8.63, ( p < .001).

Middle:

2016-17: School average class size did not significantly predict school-level academic growth.

2017-18:  School average class size did not significantly predict school-level academic growth.

Change: Change in School average class size from 2016-17 to 2017-18 significantly predicted the change in school-level academic growth even after controlling for school % FRL, b = -.18, t(196) = -2.40, p < .05.  Average class size explained a significant proportion of variance in depression scores, R2 = .03,  F(2, 196) = 3.52, ( p < .05).

High:

2016-17:  School average class size did not significantly predict school-level academic growth.

2017-18:  School average class size did not significantly predict school-level academic growth.

Change: Change in School average class size from 2016-17 to 2017-18 significantly predicted the change in school-level academic growth even after controlling for school % FRL, b = -.19, t(292) = -2.29, p < .05.  Average class size explained a significant proportion of variance in depression scores, R2 = .02,  F(2, 292) = 3.242, ( p < .05).

Class Size and Teacher Salaries

In The View from the OEP on January 23, 2019 at 2:03 pm

Class size has been in the news a lot this week as teachers striking in LA Unified identified reducing class sizes and raising salaries as two of the main issues. This got us wondering- how large ARE the classes in LAUSD, and how do they compare to class sizes in Arkansas?

In LAUSD, the average class size was 25.3, and minimum teacher salary is $50,368.  

In Arkansas, the average class size was 15.6, and minimum teacher salary is $31,800.

If we think about this on a per-student level, on average, a new teacher with a BA in LA would get $1,991 per student, while a beginning teacher with a BA in Arkansas would get $2,038.  And that’s not adjusting for the cost of living difference between here and there!

There’s BIG differences in per-student teacher salaries throughout Arkansas, with Nemo Vista being the highest paying district in Arkansas, on a per-student level. A new teacher in Nemo Vista makes $31,980 (only $180 more than the legal minimum) but the average class size is 8 students, meaning that the teacher is paid (in theory) nearly $4,000 per kid!

It’s so confusing! We want smaller classes AND higher salaries for teachers. Last week, we discussed teacher salaries around the state and how the proposed increase in minimum teacher salaries would affect teachers (relatively few) and students (probably won’t). This week, we have a new data visualization presenting minimum teacher salaries in each district throughout the state.

You can interact with the map by selecting specific districts or using the sliders to limit to ranges of minimum teacher salary, average class sizes, or % FRL. Additional information regarding each district’s academic achievement and growth percentile, average and maximum teacher salaries, as well as per pupil expenditure is included. If you just want the data- you can grab it at our website here.

salary viz

 

Last week we brought up how teacher salary is related to average class size, so here’s a simple visual of average class size and minimum teacher salary for districts in the state. In Arkansas, higher paying districts have larger class sizes.

Figure 1. Average class size and minimum teacher salary, by district.

cs and salary

We wondered if class size was the same across different types of schools. Nationally, elementary schools have lower average class sizes than middle or high schools (21 students per class compared to 26 at the higher levels).  We made some quick charts to check out if the same is true here. We found that, in Arkansas, Elementary schools have the largest class sizes, and High Schools have the smallest average classes.

  • Elementary schools have an average class size of 18.4 students per class.  Values range from 10 to 25, and schools with higher FRL rates generally have smaller classes.
  • Middle schools, with an average of 16.4 students per class, land in the middle of elementary and high schools with regard to class size.  Values range from 6 to 25, and schools with higher FRL rates usually have smaller classes.
  • High schools have an average of 10.8 students per class.  Values range from 4 to 20, but high schools don’t demonstrate a strong relationship between average class size and school FRL rates.

Figure 2. Average class size for Elementary Level schools by % FRL.

es class size

Figure 3. Average class size for Middle Level schools by % FRL.

ms class size

Figure 4. Average class size for High schools by % FRL.

hs class size

So- the good news is that across Arkansas students are in very small classes relative to their peers in LA across the country, which some research has linked to greater student achievement.  We think we should like how even smaller class sizes are showing up in schools serving more at-risk populations. Given Arkansas’ relatively small class sizes, our teachers should be able to give students quality opportunities to learn and grow every day.

The downside of such small class sizes, however, is that they contributes to lower teacher salaries.  This is because funding is provided to school districts on a per-pupil basis, so if a district has an average of 10 kids in each class there just isn’t enough funding to pay the same salaries that a district with an average of 20 kids in each class can.  It’s not a direct relationship, however, with starting salaries ranging over $10,000 among districts with the same average class size.

Higher teacher salaries and lower class sizes both sound great, but evidence of positive outcomes for students is unclear and large costs are associated with both choices.  Local school boards set the salary schedule for their teachers, and we think the decisions about how high to make teacher salaries, and how large to make classes, should be done strategically with careful consideration of resource allocation and district and community goals.

Raising Teacher Salaries

In The View from the OEP on January 16, 2019 at 1:26 pm

As the legislative session began this week, Rep. Bruce Cozart, R-Hot Springs, introduced a bill that would raise the minimum public school teacher salary in Arkansas from $31,800 to $36,000 over the next four years. Here at OEP we expect the bill to pass, but suggest that while the $60 million investment will lead to greater financial stability for teachers in the affected districts, it likely won’t increase outcomes for their students.

We pulled together some information about which school districts would be raising their salaries and how many teachers would be affected by the raises. We then ask the most important question (at least to us)- “Will raising teacher salaries benefit students?” To get an idea, we looked into the relationship in Arkansas between teacher salaries and teacher supply and turnover, as well as student outcomes of achievement and academic growth.

Which school districts would be affected?

According to the latest teacher salary analysis from the ADE, 33 school districts currently pay the minimum salary for a first year teacher. These districts pay $31,800 to a teacher with a Bachelor’s degree, and $36,450 to a teacher with a Master’s degree. While salaries increase in one-third of these districts, 22 districts continue to pay the minimum salary for teachers with 15 years experience: $38,550 to a teacher with a Bachelor’s degree, and $43,950 to a teacher with a Master’s.

Figure 1: Districts Paying the Minimum Salary, 2017-18.

salary

There are an additional 51 districts that are paying more than the minimum salary, but less than the salary proposed in the bill ($32,800) These districts would have to increase their salaries to meet that proposed minimum.

How many teachers would get raises?

About 2,500 teachers work in the 33 districts that pay a minimum starting salary.  That’s 6.5% of teachers in the state. An additional 4,200 work in districts that would need to raise their salary to meet the new minimum, which means 18% of teachers could see raises.

Would the raises help recruit and retain teachers?

There is good research that recruiting high-quality teachers and retaining them can have a positive effect on students’ learning, but would raising minimum salaries in Arkansas salaries help recruit and retain teachers?

OEP research on Arkansas Teacher Supply found that beginning teacher salary was not a significant predictor of teacher supply.  While districts paying the highest teacher salaries reported receiving more teacher applications than lower paying ones, once other factors like district location were taken into consideration, teacher salary had no effect on the number of applications recieved per open teaching position.

The Arkansas Department of Education has developed a measure of workforce stability for each district. We compared the measure between districts paying the minimum salary and districts paying more, and found a slight difference (minimum =86.9% and higher paying districts= 89.9%). There was also just a slight correlation between base salary and the stability index (r=0.18), so it doesn’t seem that raising the minimum salary would have an impact on the stability of the teacher workforce at the school.

Would teacher raises help kids learn more?

We dug into the relationship between starting teacher salary and student outcomes like academic achievement and academic growth, and found essentially no relationship. Kids in Arkansas learn (or don’t) regardless of the district salary schedule.

For academic achievement, as measured by the 2017-18 ACT Aspire scores, districts with the minimum salary had achievement scores ranging from better than 98 percent of districts statewide to worse than 73 percent. As presented in the figure below, there was a low correlation between achievement and beginning teacher salary (r=0.28), indicating that paying teachers more doesn’t translate into higher test scores for students.

Figure 2: District Starting Salary and Student Achievement, 2017-18.

salary ach

For (our favorite!) academic growth, there was also little relationship with minimum teacher salary.  As we have discussed before, growth is measured by the 2017-18 ACT Aspire scores and reflects how much students improved compared to how much we thought they would improve based on their prior test scores. Districts with the minimum salary had growth scores ranging from better than 99 percent of districts statewide to worse than 77 percent.

As presented in the figure below, there was a low correlation between achievement and beginning teacher salary (r=0.26), indicating that paying teachers more doesn’t translate into better academic growth for students.

Figure 3: District Starting Salary and Student Academic Growth, 2017-18.

salary growth

We want to shout out the districts with the top 5% of growth in the state.  We are including the beginning teacher salary so you can see for yourself how varied pay is among these high-growth districts. We also include the district % FRL and average class size to demonstrate that high student academic growth can happen anywhere!

district salary growth

Hooray for the teachers in these districts that are getting it done for kids!  It’s also important to note that the highest paying districts in the list have the largest average class sizes. This reflects what OEP’s teacher salary research found- that class size was one of the most important factors in teacher pay.

In summary, here at OEP we understand that raising teacher salaries is popular, but suggest that while the $60 million investment will lead to greater financial stability for the teachers in the affected districts, it likely won’t increase outcomes for their students. 

 


Q and A about Arkansas teacher salaries

Q: What is the average teacher salary in Arkansas?

  • $49,615 was the average salary for classroom teachers in Arkansas for school districts including charters (2016-17).

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

  • Arkansas’s average teacher salary ranks 40th in the nation but increases to 22nd after adjusting for our state’s low cost of living.
  • Compared to surrounding states, Arkansas’s average teacher salary ranks 3rd, moving up to 2nd among our neighbors after adjusting for cost of living.

Q: Where does the money for teacher salaries come from?

  • Arkansas schools are funded through a funding matrix, which determines the per-student cost of an adequate education. In 2016-17, all schools received $6,646 per student, of which 69% was associated with salaries and benefits for classroom teachers, pupil support staff, school principal, and school secretary. At this funding level, the average teacher salary (and 25% for benefits) could be covered by a class of 13 students. It is important to note, however, that although there is a matrix for funding, there is no matrix for spending, and districts can allocate the funds as they choose.

Q: Who decides how much teachers get paid?

  • Teacher salaries in Arkansas are determined by local school boards. There is a minimum salary enacted by Arkansas Code § 6-17-2403 ($31,400 for 2017-18). The minimum salary has increased in each of the last four years, and the vast majority of districts in the state (87%) pay higher salaries than legally required.  Arkansas teachers typically receive an increase in salary each year and additional increases for further education credits.

Q: What kinds of districts pay higher teacher salaries?

  • 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. Even after we controlled for differences in experience and education of teachers, and median income of counties, there were still substantial variations in pay between districts. You can read the details in the full report or shorter brief, but we found that districts with lower student : teacher ratios paid lower salaries. 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.