Editorial: Use deeper state report card data to learn more about schools

  • Wheeling High School students work on a class project in their Advancement Via Individual Placement (AVID) program class.

      Wheeling High School students work on a class project in their Advancement Via Individual Placement (AVID) program class. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted11/4/2019 10:18 PM

It's time for parents to do some homework.

Most parents probably think they are pretty familiar with the schools their children attend. They know who the teachers are, attend parent-teacher conferences and make a point of going to concerts and plays. And, they're there to cheer on a championship team.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But do parents really know what makes their child's school tick? Do they know how the school performs on standardized tests? Do they understand the dollars and cents that go into educating their kids? Can they say how their school stacks up against the one their brother-in-law's kids attend?

The 2019 Illinois Report Card has all that information and more. Go online, search the database and educate yourself about how the schools in your community are performing and why. Maybe you'll even find some details worth discussing with your neighbors and local school officials that might lead to important changes.

One of those discussions may be about per-pupil spending. In the past, that information was available only by district but new data in this year's report card drills down to the school level, where what's being spent at one school may be vastly different from what's spent at another.

State board of education officials say the goal in providing that amount of detail is to encourage questions and urge school districts to have deeper conversations with their communities about equity, funding priorities and why and how resources are allocated.

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Educators say that's a good thing but caution that parents and others shouldn't take the per-pupil spending numbers at face value while comparing one school to another. In other words, is there a story behind the numbers that helps explain why per-student spending at one school may be higher than at other schools in the same district?

"These differences that we see in spending between schools, it's very difficult to tell simply from looking at the data set whether they are positives or negatives," the Illinois State Board of Education's Sara Shaw told our Madhu Krishnamurthy.

There are many factors that affect a school's per-pupil spending, ranging from extra costs for a school that has a large percentage of special education students, English language learners or others with special needs to differences in enrollment that affect economies of scale.

Here's the homework portion of the assignment -- you'll need to do some digging and ask questions to examine that information.

Schools have a high-profile role in every community, from providing children a quality education to helping homeowners maximize real estate values to being the biggest line item on property tax bills. Everyone has a stake in their performance and efficiency.

Take the initiative to better understand how they operate and shine a light on areas where they might improve.

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