Wake County schools a quality bargain, study says (and check out who paid for the study!) | Citizen | Indy Week
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Friday, October 1, 2010

Wake County schools a quality bargain, study says (and check out who paid for the study!)

Posted by on Fri, Oct 1, 2010 at 2:33 PM

This just in: Only one of North Carolina's urban school systems is graduating students at a high rate and at low cost to the taxpayers. And it is — ta da! — Wake County. Or it was Wake County before the new school board majority got in there.

And which group's study tells us this? Why it's none other than the John William Pope Civitas Institute, a right-wing Raleigh nonprofit paid for by a foundation controlled by Art Pope, the Republican millionaire and new school board majority backer. (Art = John William's son.)

That's right (and h/tips to a reader and to the Public School Forum of NC, whose summary of the Civitas study the reader forwarded to us), Wake County was doing far better than Charlotte-Mecklenburg, and also better than Guilford and Forsyth, before Pope's new school board majority was elected and started messing with it.

And in this case, Pope's gang picked the measuring stick.

They wanted to know, in each county, how much was spent over a 13-year span getting little Johnny and Jane from kindergarten to a high school diploma at the end of the 2008-9 school year. The statewide average was $142,000. Some small counties with decent graduation rates and low teachers salaries came in as much as $40,000 below that figure. Some small counties with very poor graduation rates (hence, a lot of money "wasted" on students who didn't graduate — but maybe they learned something before they left?) came in as much as $100,000 higher.

The cost in Charlotte? $153,000 per graduate. In Wake, $123,000. Kind of makes you wonder why Pope's school board proxies are so keen to adopt Charlotte-style "neighborhood schools" in place of Wake's obviously more successful assignment policy — which added a dash of diversity to the proximity & stability mix.

The full Civitas report can be found here.

As the Public School Forum reported:

The Civitas Institute issued a study last week that purports to rank North Carolina’s 115 school systems on the basis of how much they spend to graduate one student. To arrive at the per-graduate cost they took the last 13 years of local, state and federal education spending — spanning a student’s public school experience from Kindergarten through the 12th grade — and then divided the total 13-year investment by the 2008-09 graduation rate.

Predictably, under this approach school systems with low graduation rates were found to invest considerably more per high school graduate than were systems with high graduation rates. Tyrrell County schools, for instance, had the state’s lowest high school completion rate in 2008-09, graduating just 57.9% of its students. Subsequently, it’s per pupil graduation cost was $265,395 using Civitas methodology.

Conversely, Randolph County Schools had a 79.4% graduation rate, nearly 22% higher than Tyrrell, and had one of the lowest costs per graduate at $100,736. Using the Civitas approach, the average per-graduate cost for all 115 school systems was $142,027 for the 13-year span of education from Kindergarten to graduation.

The study then broke school systems into quartiles ranging from the top quartile which had the lowest per-graduate cost to the bottom quartile which had the highest.

Wake County’s per-graduate cost was found to be nearly $20,000 below the average per-graduate cost, coming in at $123,006 per graduate versus the $142,027 statewide average. That put Wake in the top quartile for cost-effectiveness.

Wake was the only urban school system to rank in the top quartile. Forsyth and Guildford Counties ranked in the second quartile and Charlotte-Mecklenburg was in the next-to- the-lowest quartile with a per-graduate cost of $141,693 per graduate. However, it must again be pointed out that the primary difference in per-graduate costs per school system results from differences in graduation rates. In 2008-09, Charlotte Mecklenburg’s high school completion rate was only 66.1% while Wake County’s was 78.4%.

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