Educational Productivity in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County

DebSF -- January 20th, 2011

The Center for American Progress is releasing the results from a  first-ever attempt to evaluate the productivity of almost every major school district in the country. According to the report, nearly every K-12 school district in the country with more than 250 students was included.

The full report, authored by Ulrich Bosser, is accompanied by an interactive mapping app, allowing for  some interesting comparisons. Same-sized school districts with similar results often spend vastly different amounts per pupil, and high-spending districts are often inefficient if measured by achievement and outcomes.

Here’s Virgina (click to enlarge).  “Adjusted” per pupil spending means it’s been “adjusted for differences in cost of living and student needs;”  the specific methodology is described in great detail in the report.    The closer the district plots  to the top of the graph, the better it scores in the state achievement index.  The closer to the left axis, the less money it spends per-pupil .  The top-performing district in VA is Falls Church (the yellow dot up in the north-east corner),  spending $11,760 per pupil and scoring 95 on the achievement index.  Hanover County, by contrast, scores 94 but  spends  just $7,239.  The lowest performing district in the state is Petersburg, spending a nearly identical $7,205 but scoring 70 on the state achievement index.

Here’s Harrisonburg, with close to average spending and achievement levels for the state:

And here’s Rockingham County, with slightly higher achievement levels and lower per-pupil spending than the city:

9 Responses to “Educational Productivity in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County”

  1. Yo Baby says:

    Interesting…out in Rockingham County there seems to be an unwritten policy of getting rid of the more senior faculty and replacing them with less experienced, cheaper ones fresh out of college.

    At Mountain View Elementary School a faculty member with a doctorate is being pushed out by the principal, who has less education…at Spotswood, two excellent educators in Earth Science are being pushed out by the new principal, Seth Muraskin, the same guy who fired the 30-year track coach of SHS, Mike Guinn, ostensibly because he “didn’t know the rules of track” [quoted from the DNR article].

    This guy, Muraskin, who thinks so much of Rockingham County that he lives and commutes from Albemarle and has both of his children in private schools is leaning on people at SHS for reasons having absolutely nothing to do with their employment. Teachers have literally walked out and QUIT in the middle of school days, and a faculty member was so badgered by the guy last year, she was hauled out in an ambulance.

    At Elkton Middle School, the guidance counselor is so disgusted with the purging around the county, he has resigned in the middle of the school year, effective 31 January.

    Here’s a list of current openings in the County Schools:

    View Substitute Teacher Rockingham County Public Schools
    View Adult Education Instructor, MTC Rockingham County Public Schools
    View Anticipated Long-term Earth Science Substitute Teacher, TAHS Rockingham County Public Schools
    View Anticipated Long-term Vocal Music Substitute Teacher, TAHS Rockingham County Public Schools
    View Anticipated Long-Term Substitute 5th Grade Teacher, CRES Rockingham County Public Schools
    View Computer Repair and Networking Teacher, MTC Rockingham County Public Schools
    View Guidance Counselor Position, EMS Rockingham County Public Schools
    View Middle School Teacher, EMS Rockingham County Public Schools
    View ESL/GED Adult Instructor, MTC Rockingham County Public Schools
    View Long Term Substitute for 3rd Grade Teacher, JCMES Rockingham County Public Schools
    View Long Term Agriculture Substitute Teacher, BHS Rockingham County Public Schools
    View Long Term Algebra and Analysis Substitute Teacher, SHS Rockingham County Public Schools
    View Long-term Substitute Nurse Instructor, MTC Rockingham County Public Schools

    In fact, the purging of senior faculty members from Rockingham County Schools appears to be going on at most — if not all — schools in the County, with the notable exceptions of the two newest elementary schools and East Rockingham, where all three principals got to handpick their staff.

    I would strongly caution all parents who have children in the Rockingham County Schools to sniff around their children’s schools and watch the number of available positions available as the balance of the school year progresses.

  2. Yo Baby says:

    By the way, word going around the PTAs is that Seth Muraskin, a Principal for less than two years, has thrown his name in the hat for the Assistant Superintendent over in Greene County.

    How’s that for his investment in the SHS Community?

  3. Dany Fleming says:

    Thanks for this post, Deb. Very timely, especially given McDonnel’s recent education plan (though, I’d call it an attack on and not a plan for).

    How the report works is pretty cool and there’s good stuff in it. You’re also right to mention the methodologies description in the report, which details the many caveats with the data. Understandably, people with a passing interest aren’t likely to read through those (important) details. It’s still good fodder for blogging debate and a good research tool. The data will be spun in all ways possible. So, here’s one of my takes on this data…

    In the relative measuring, both Rockingham Co. and Harrisonburg fair very well. Rockingham is slightly better than H’burg in one index and H’burg is slightly better in two. The reports shows that, in relative terms, local education expenditures are used efficiently (i.e., low cost/student and good education “productivity”).

    While I don’t support McDonnel’s efforts at privatizing public education, it would seem to make even less sense to do that around here. Since private schools won’t open their expenditures and “education productivity” to public scrutiny, how can McDonnel be so sure they will measure up? Will local private schools offer the same “education productivity?” Public schools are under intense scrutiny in every way possible. McDonnel seems awfully loose in letting public dollars go out the door to private schools without them offering some proof of their worth. (by the way, charter schools are public, not private).

    According to the report, Harrisonburg’s adjusted per pupil spending is $8,021. That includes the higher special ed. expenditures and additional services. The student tuition at Eastern Mennonite HS is $12,324 + $700 in fees….so it’s $13,024. EMHS does not cover those same special ed needs. I believe EMHS is a good school, but so is HHS. By this report’s measures, however, EMHS would have a very low Return on Investment (ROI) when compared to HHS or Rockingham Co.

    Are the Republicans saying they would push public dollars away from public schools to private schools with no accountability? Shouldn’t our local legislators stand-up for the quality of our local schools? According to this report, investing more in our local public schools is actually a good investment.

    Before McDonnel offers the public bank account to private schools, it seems that he should require that they come under the same type of fiduciary and academic scrutiny as public schools. Othewise, he’s doing what he claims the democrats do…which is give money without the right accountability.

    The other take to me is that we can and should ask our public schools to meet higher standards and, at least around here, investing more in them is likely to produce very good results.

  4. Ross says:

    This is a perfect example of needing “Good Leadership” in times we are experiencing now. And just to vote in the PARTY person you want over a better, qualified individual Candidate is foolish. I would like to suggest that we, the Voters, think real hard and vote in the right person over a preferred Party.

  5. I am going to stick my finger in a potential sore spot on this, although I think that this is partly dealt with in the methodology of the study. This is the matter of ethnic/racial composition of the schools.

    So, Harrisonburg is now in competition with Arlington for having the most ethnically diverse student population in the Commonwealth. Needless to say, Rockingham is not remotely in that competition. Needless to say, all the English as a Second Language demands put pressure on the city school budgets, and the larger minority population also tends to drag down some of those final performance on tests numbers. Again, I think the methodology of the study at least partly takes these things into account.

    In any case, I would contend that HHS is better than it looks compared to the county schools based on these sorts of outcome stats. Recently retired Principal Reynolds at HHS has received national recognition for her ability to deal with the ethnic diversity issue, and HHS regularly sends students to very highly ranked colleges and universities in this country, indeed, I think easily beating both EMHS and the county high schools on that measure, even if it has more lower performing students than they do.

    I am not privy to how true or not the complaints made by the anonymous poster above about the county schools are, although I have heard occasional rumbles over the years, mostly from former teachers who either quit, retired early, or were fired. In any case, this sort of criticism, combined with the obvious praise Reynolds has received, along with the better performance in terms of student placement at colleges and universities (at least it is my understanding that this is the case) suggests that this report may understate the “productivity” of the city schools compared to the county ones.

  6. Dany Fleming says:

    Barkley, as messy as it is, it’s a conversation worth stirring up…and I don’t usually shy away from it. I’ll steer clear, for now, some of the demographic issues you raise.

    However, your points about HHS’ advanced students holds up. HHS has noticeably higher percentages of students in AP courses (over 15%), has a higher percentage of students with advanced diplomas (over 51%) and a higher percentage of teachers with Masters degrees (over 50%, which is still below the state avg). These are all generally considered strong indicators of school quality. On the other end of the student spectrum, the city dropout rate is now also lower than the county.

    Without a doubt, these numbers play a role in how students get college acceptance.

    For parents with the luxury of being able to decide where to live, there’s certainly a lot that goes into deciding the best school for your kids. However, from the conversations I’ve had with many, many parents, there are certainly some skewed perceptions about HHS/city schools.

    I also believe that Harrisonburg is going to push those numbers even higher and would get there much quicker with a better state/local investment. To me, this is THE investment worth making – especially since I also believe the district is showing its efficiency.

    This certainly isn’t meant to be, in any way, a comment on the county schools. However, rallying behind our city schools does not seem to be a battle-cry from many of our local legislators and certainly not from most of our local media. The schools, and especialy our kids, deserve that attention.

  7. Jason B says:

    So, before we pat people on the back at HHS, you should know that the guidance program has the power to pass people who simply need to pass. There have been students who are on track for graduating, gotten a 50 average in a subject, bombed the related SOL, and was “passed through.” There are also numerous instances of students being passed in a class by administrator demand in an effort to please an irate parent.

    Things are different from when I was in high school in the 90s. I clearly remember that we had two or three 20-year-old seniors who had repeatedly failed. The school kept them. Now, the students are allowed to pass simply to get them out of the building and to boost the pass rate.

  8. Jason B says:

    I should also add that this has basically become the de facto standard for many public schools, as funding becomes more and more tied to pass rates.

    And now, universities and colleges are experiencing a growing number of students who are entering with few skills in reading, writing, and mathematics. And McDonnell is considering tying college funding to graduation rates. Anyone see where I’m going with this?

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