1) 65% Solution? Reduce School District Size. EIA has (finally)
completed its update of
school district enrollment and spending with Census Bureau data for the
2003-04 school year. It's huge, it's unwieldy, but information for 14,218
school districts at least mitigates the problems associated with state
rankings, in which a district like Los Angeles gets lumped together with the
Weed. ("We have an airport located close to town, perfect for pilots
looking for an exciting location to fly into.")
One of the bits of information the EIA tables provide is whether a school
district spent 65 percent or more on "instruction." The 65% Solution is
a big political issue and promises to become an even bigger one. EIA
remains doubtful that meeting such a threshold has any effect on the quality
of instruction or on student performance. However, it appears to be a useful
yardstick to measure how school districts are spending their money. This is
an entirely different issue, and the results pose a challenge to those who
champion school district consolidation and the belief that the spending of
large school districts is more efficient due to economies of scale.
While there are
competing arguments about what is included in instruction spending,
there is little doubt that the overwhelming majority is dedicated to teacher
salaries and benefits. So when we see a district devoting 65 percent of its
budget to instruction, it really means it has to devote a large percentage
of its budget to teacher compensation.
EIA ranked all 14,218 school districts by enrollment and checked the
correlation between size and the ability to reach the 65 percent
instructional threshold. The results should surprise economists, but not
observers of public education.
In 2003-04, the U.S. had 26 school districts with more than 100,000
students. Of these, only New York City and Cobb County, Georgia, met the 65%
threshold. That's a success rate of 7.7 percent.
An additional 61 school districts had between 50,000 and 100,000 students.
Of these, five (8.2 percent) met the mark.
Let's continue down the rankings. There were 170 school districts with
25,000 to 50,000 students. Of these, 25 spent 65% on instruction (14.7
Then we reach a plateau. There were 7,152 districts with an enrollment
between 1,000 and 25,000 students. Of these, 1,213 (17.0 percent) reached
65% on instructional spending. No matter how you subdivide this group, there
is little deviation in how many districts meet the mark. But below 1,000
enrollment, the pattern resumed.
There were 2,382 districts with between 500 and 1,000 students. Of these,
476 (20.0 percent) reached the 65% mark. And of the 4,427 districts with
fewer than 500 students, 976 (22.0 percent) met the 65% mark.
There are variety of theories to explain why this should be so, but the data
demolish any notion that increasing the size of a school district will
increase the resources available to spend "in the classroom." On the
contrary: the larger the district, the greater the chance that more money
will be spent on "non-instructional" programs and personnel.
2) NEA New York Delegates Approve Merger.
As expected, members of
the NEA New York Delegate Assembly approved constitutional changes that
allow the union to complete a merger with the AFT-affiliated New York State
United Teachers (NYSUT). While there are still several administrative
hurdles to leap, this vote virtually assures the place of NEA New York as
the fourth merged NEA-AFT state affiliate joining Minnesota, Florida and
The final tally was 463-124, easily surpassing the two-thirds requirement.
Buffalo Teachers Federation President Phil Rumore
reiterated his threat to take his 3,400-member local independent, rather
than go along with the merger.
Well, it's only about a 216-mile drive along the southern shore of Lake Erie
to get some advice from
these guys on how to run a large independent local teachers' union.
3) We're Number 49! No, We Are!
EIA gets tons of reports, policy
papers and other assorted documents from people and organizations with an
interest in public education. And to be perfectly honest unless it has
something in it that is immediately
eye-catching, I'm not going to spend too much time with it.
But, while thumbing through a March 2006 report from the Independence
Institute titled, "Counting
the Cash for K-12: The Facts about Per-Pupil Spending in Colorado," I
came across a graphic that illustrates why it pays to be skeptical.
The institute found that "at least 10 states claimed in 2004 or 2005 to rank
49th in education funding." The list includes Arizona, Colorado,
Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and
Call it the reverse Lake Wobegon effect. When it comes to funding, everyone
claims to be below average.
4) Good Week for Education Labor Reporting. It is perhaps inevitable
that newspaper reporting on teachers' unions should periodically receive
some harsh criticism on these pages. But EIA has noticed improved press
coverage of NEA, AFT, and their affiliates in recent years. Attitudes of
reporters have evolved from "so what?" to "important, but arcane" to
In the last few days alone, we had a thorough examination of union-endorsed
403(b) plans by Kathy M. Kristof of the
Los Angeles Times, and a look at union organizing and charter
schools by Jennifer Smith Richards of the
Columbus Dispatch, both highlighted in EIA's blog.
This morning, Claudette Riley of the
Tennessean also took the time to look at the Metro Nashville
teachers' contract, and discovered that a handful of teachers are spending a
significant portion of the school year attending to union business. "We
didn't know we were being policed," said Metro Nashville Education
Association President Jamye Merritt.
Most of this stuff never gets "policed," which is why the unifying factor
for most school district operations is inertia. Local newspapers can not
only generate some decent stories from this, but maybe even effect some
5) One More Dues Hike. The Kentucky Education Association is
planning to raise member dues an additional $39 per year, and allow active
members to automatically become retired members an idea that is gaining a
lot of traction in NEA affiliates.
6) Last week's Intercepts. EIA's blog,
Intercepts, covered these topics from April 25-30:
Teachers' Unions and 403(B) Plans. Getting a lousy return on your
union-endorsed plan? Comfort yourself with the news that it subsidizes the
six-figure salaries of union bureaucrats.
Muster the Union Spin Squad! Californians Like Testing! Despite the
constant anti-testing drumbeat, Californians march to a different tune.
Simple and Elegant. The Citizens' Commission on Civil Rights destroys
Connecticut's anti-NCLB lawsuit in two sentences.
"I'm condemned by a society that demands success when all I can offer is
failure!" The Christina School District hasn't yet learned that you
can't have more than 100 percent of anything.
7) Quote of the Week #1.
"The biggest problem
is apathy." Kalamazoo, Michigan, teacher Art Williams, explaining why
local union president Millie Lambert has so much clout. Lambert is running
for reelection despite being censured by the union's judicial board for
conduct unbecoming a union officer. (April
28 Kalamazoo Gazette)
the Week #2.
"Did you know
WEA Research Analysts and the State Auditor's Office independently agree
that the District overestimates revenue and underestimates expenditures?"
from the Executive Board of the Shoreline Education Association in the State
of Washington, though it would certainly be true of most other school
districts in the country.