Chariho School Parents’ Forum

June 7, 2007

The inaccuracy of NCES numbers

Filed under: Budget,Chariho,Student Performance — Editor @ 11:15 pm

For those of you who have been reading this site since it’s inception, you will know that when I started on the board, the logical first step for me was to evaluate how we stacked up against our peers.  Simple comparisons – how our academic achievement compares to our peers and how our costs compare to our peers.

Student performance is determined by the NECAP scores and has been reported on before.  While we continue to tout our “high performing” schools, the test scores cannot be ignored.  We are the lowest performing school (compared to our peers) in a low performing state, in a country that no longer leads the world.

I also tried to evaluate labor costs by comparing Chariho to the most efficient in the state and country.  Unfortunately, the Chariho administration has told me that the employee numbers reported by the RI Department of Education are “inaccurate.” 

From the June 6 Providence Journal –

“Give Schools the tools to trim waste”

THE U.S. CHAMBER of Commerce “Leaders and Laggards” report is, to quote The Journal, “the umpteenth warning that Rhode Island is failing its students and undermining its economic prospects” (“More F’s for Rhode Island,” editorial, March 7). Clearly, we have serious problems, but the question is what do we do about it.

Simply put, schools produce a product (graduates), and it’s the charge of the local school board to produce the best product possible at the lowest possible price.

Without the pressures of competition to ensure efficiency and effectiveness, public schools must employ an active strategy of comparative analysis. The No Child Left Behind Act was designed to provide guidance regarding the quality of the product, but what about the costs?

Comparing schools by their labor costs, compartmentalized by employee function, and compensating for student performance, demographics and economic factors, can help the public and school decision-makers identify inefficiencies. That is, assuming you can get accurate data.

The Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) uses the Teacher Certification System to tabulate the types and numbers of employees at every Rhode Island public school. This information is sent to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), located within the U.S. Department of Education, and compiled for every public school in the country.

School employees are divided into eight categories: teachers, instructional aides, coordinators, guidance counselors, library/media specialists and supports, district administrators and supports, school administrators and supports, and student support services and other supports.

Can you imagine how beneficial this information could be? You could compare your district with the best in the country, and set your goals accordingly. But in a recent school-board meeting I learned that this simple yet powerful comparison is impossible.

During my time as a school-board member, every analysis I have tried to complete has been labeled an “apples-to-oranges” comparison.

For example, the NCES reports that the Chariho District has 74 guidance counselors but the administration contends that the number is only 10. But if you move the remaining 64 employees to the support category, the analysis is still useless because some schools include secretaries in their support category (which we categorize as administrators).

The Chariho administration has investigated the Teacher Certification System and found social workers and psychologists listed as administrators, found single employees counted three times and even identified employees on the lists who had “retired, transferred or resigned.”

If we included the dead, I would think we were looking at the voter registration rolls.

On March 27, the Chariho School Board was presented with an e-mail from Edward Giroux, the director of the Office of Network and Information Systems at RIDE, that said, “It’s obvious that the information is incorrect.” According to Chariho Regional School District Superintendent Barry Ricci, RIDE has also said that it has “no faith that the reports for any of the districts are accurate.”

This op-ed is a plea to RIDE: Please give us some numbers to work with! Clearly define what is included in each category and make sure everyone follows the rules. It’s the only way we can evaluate our schools.

If you calculate Rhode Island’s overall grade in the “Leaders and Laggards” report, we have a grade-point average of 0.9, the absolute lowest in the nation! We can’t go any lower in performance and we can’t spend any more money. It’s time for us to identify our inefficiencies.

As a board member I’m frustrated, as a taxpayer I’m angry, and as a parent I’m scared. I don’t know how much money RIDE spends accumulating this information but I assume it’s in the millions. Either give us what we paid for or give us a refund so we can hire someone who will do the job right.

Bill Felkner is a member of the Chariho School Board.


1 Comment »

  1. Excellent op-ed Mr. Felkner!

    Now let’s see if the state government is more forthright than our local government? I’m tired of seeing Rhode Island children’s futures sacrificed at the altar of teacher’s unions and school administrations. I don’t hold out much hope though, since the state government is just as likely as our local officials to be in bed with unions and school administrators. You can probably throw the social services crowd into the mix as well.

    None of it bodes well for change. Too many adults making a tidy living off our children’s educational miseries.

    Comment by Curious Resident — June 8, 2007 @ 10:34 am | Reply

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