Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Best Schools for the Buck?

The financial magazine Forbes is out with a new ranking of school districts in the U.S.; per-pupil spending from property taxes is the primary focus. (It is Forbes, after all.)

"Best and Worst School Districts for the Buck" focuses on 775 counties that had the highest property tax rates and populations greater than 65,000. That yielded 97 counties where more than 50 percent of per-pupil spending comes from property taxes. Graduation rates and SAT scores were also used as indicators of the school's success.

Critics like Chester E. Finn, Jr. of the Fordham Foundation chided the study's obvious disregard for factors like wealth or parental education that can greatly affect a school -- or student's -- success. (In an e-mail to the Washington Post, Finn called the analysis " just plain dumb.") The study also raises the age-old debate as to whether more money means better schools. According to Forbes writer Christina Settimi's article:
Winners in this rating system are counties whose schools deliver high performance at low cost. The losers spend a lot of money and have little to show for it.
In looking down the list, there were no Washington state districts; most hailed from the east coast or the south. But then, our state dedicates nearly half of its biennial operating budget to education. As local readers may know, property taxes here are supposed to cover local district needs, and can be adjusted through levies.

So is this sort of research helpful or hurtful to the ongoing debate over school funding in America? Or is it just interesting fodder for education bloggers?

Aside: In addition to the full listing of all 97 districts, Forbes includes a slide show with Google maps of the "10 best and 10 worst districts for the buck." (I guess I was expecting actual photos of schools or the communities, not maps.) Interestingly, this same feature also showcases other Forbes slide shows like "The World's Top-Earning Models." For the record, Giselle Bundchen led the list at a cool $33 million. Compare that with Alexandria City, VA, which came in last in the school rankings and spends $11,404 per pupil. Lipstick versus pencils?

Again, it's Forbes.

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