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Hear the Echoes # 6 - Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Hear the Echoes 6


Progress View

In Quality Counts


The Ed Week annual Quality Counts report reveals that Louisiana’s public education program is better than the U.S. Average in overall grades and scores.


With the U.S. average rated at C (76.3), Louisiana scored C+ (77.6.).  That was undercut, however by a K-12 achievement score of F (58.6). 


Analysis of the scoring details showed that Standards Assessments & Accountability drew an A (197.2), Standards drew an A (100), Assessments an A (91.7), School Accountability an A (100), Early childhood education A (90), Economy and Workforce an A (100).  It may be noted that the high scores describe programs in place.  Their high ratings are not reflected in student achievement (58.6), adult outcomes C (74.6), Change (which might reflect implementation of programs) D (65.6), college readiness D (60), or Spending D (60.2).


Louisiana teaching was appraised well scoring a B (84.2) a one point improvement over 2009.


In comparison with the 2009 report, Louisiana’s performance was a significant improvement.  The U.S. average grade was a C (76.2) while Louisiana’s score last year trailing the national average with a C (74.4).  Louisiana’s 2010 score improved 3.2 points, while the nation improved a tenth of a point.


K-12 achievement in 2009 was a D (60.3) or one and seven-tenths higher than the 2010 score.  Adult outcomes, however, improved from last year’s 70.4 with a scant two-tenths improvement.  The college readiness score in 2009 was 56 or four points below current grade.


Spending on K-12 education, while still an F, improved over last year by 5.3 points.


While besting the national average is a positive sign, there is even more encouraging news.  Last year North Carolina rated a grade of 75.5 or 1.1 points ahead of Louisiana.  This year the Tar Heel state score rose to 77.8 a move of two points to make the spread between the two states only two-tenths.


Comparing Louisiana’s 2010 scoring with several other southeastern states that often are benchmarks the report reveals that Kentucky lost ground dropping from 75 to 75.2, South Carolina also lost ground with scores dropping from 78.9 to 78.3.  Florida improved from 79.6 to 81.5 and Alabama improved from 75.4 to 76.8.


It can be seen that only Florida and North Carolina, among traditional benchmark states, performed better than did Louisiana.  But, Louisiana’s improvement was greater than either of them in 2010.


Clearly there is progress being made, and the progress is more significant than the nation as a whole or southeastern benchmark states.  Many proponents of education change harp on how poorly Louisiana’s K-12 education program is progressing.  Having scored a C is seen as poor performance while only 11 states nationwide were graded B.  Maryland scored 87.6 in 2010 for the best score nationally.  It improved from 84.7.


The Maryland K-12 achievement graded a B at 84.7 in 2009, but in 2010 fell to 81.8.  Now we find that Louisiana scored less than four points behind the best score in the nation.


Reform proponents apparently follow the Milton Friedman model in which reform and improvement strategies work best when crisis are perceived to exist.  Louisiana’s reform movement that began more than 10 years ago can be seen to be working, albeit not at the pace we would wish, but nevertheless better than those states with whom we benchmark.


School board membership should be encouraged that these numbers are indicators of the need to focus ever more on helping to upgrade lagging schools in their districts.  Allocation of resources, within the districts, plays a key role in upgrading performance on those schools.  Extra seat time is costly, as is addition of aides to focus attention on those students in trouble.


Setting priorities that focus on lifting up poor performing schools presents serious challenge in times of tight budgets.  Sizable gains in student achievement, however, are likely easier to obtain with low performing schools than in the very best of schools. 


A review of Quality Counts scores reveal that the components for a national class education system seem to be in place.  World Class likely will take special efforts.  Improvement in K-12 spending that would permit extended day and extended week in lagging schools will require the Legislature and the Jindal administration to look hard at priorities. 


The U.S. Department of Education Digest of Educational Statistics most recent tabulation shows that Louisiana, in 2005-06, expended $7,108 per capita in total direct general funds.  That expenditure contained $1,391 for elementary and secondary education.  That tied with Oregon for 42nd place in the national list.  (Table 30 2009 Tables & Figures, DES).


Among the various challenges facing school districts in Louisiana, finance can be seen to be tops.  Increases in retirement and health insurance, fuel and utilities consume an ever increasing share of spending.  For the past two years the 2.75% growth factor has been missing from the MFP, and state spending for some services have been transferred from the state department of education down to local districts. 


Concurrently, the bar is being raised for school performance scores.  Calls for even greater acceleration of school improvement are continuing.  The ability to do more with less becomes increasingly difficult when demands for improvement exceed the spending point of elasticity.


K-12 consumes but 19.6% of total general fund expenditures.  Nationally, 45 states spend a greater proportion of their general funds on K-12 education.


Sen. Ben Nevers, chairman of Senate Education, views spending on education in its proper light as an investment in the future of Louisiana.  Failure to adequately invest in our future generations, he believes, dooms Louisiana’s economy to remain dependent on natural resources and provides momentum to the exodus of young adults to states with more intelligence-based economies.


With 2011 being an election year, and school board members newly sworn to another four year term, perhaps the time to head off a perfect storm, increasing demand for performance and shrinking resources, is now.


Don Whittinghill

LSBA Consultant



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