Friday, May 25, 2007

Mackinac Center Looks at Consolidation

The Mackinac Center just released a report by Andrew Coulson on school district consolidation.

Mackinac Center: School District Consolidation, Size and Spending: an Evaluation (05/22/07)

The report looks at individual school district spending in Michigan during the 2003-04 school year, and attempts to adjust for a variety of factors using a complex set of mathematical formulas.

They conclude the "ideal" district size is 2911 students, and calculate that consolidating smaller districts up to that population would save $31 million, and breaking up the larger districts would save $363 million.

I just gave this a quick review. I usually like the findings of the Mackinac Center and Andrew Coulson, but after my first pass I'm afraid I just can't agree with them on this one.

I have no doubt that their formulas are correct, but see three flaws in their logic. First, they assume the educational standards a community sets for its schools can be measured by the average household income. Secondly, the study does not take academic achievement into account (although a subsequent revision that will somehow factor in achievement is planned). Third, the study does not consider educational opportunities.

With respect to concern number one, I cannot agree that all wealthier communities have higher standards than less affluent communities.

As far as concern number two, I do agree that money spent per pupil doesn't necessarily translate into higher achievement, but I believe that is not because money is entirely irrelevant. Poor or medicore results are often because of poor academic leadership and low community standards. A district with high standards, a strong leader, and more resources is going to do better than a district with high standards, a strong leader, and fewer resources.

And finally, speaking to concern three, the study does not address the opportunities -- or lack thereof -- in districts of differing size.

The Mackinac Center will present and discuss the results on June 7, and I hope to learn more then. Stay tuned.

==> Mike.


Anonymous said...

I agree, Mike.

The formulas used in the report might also be able to identify the ideal resturant size. How would Taco Bell compare to Ruth's Chris Steakhouse?

But, they still get an "A" for effort!

Perhaps the formulas might be tweaked to include the factors you have mentioned? Achievement and opportunity are both significant.

Andrew J. Coulson said...

Dear Mr. Reno,

I respond to your concerns in a blog post here:

Best wishes,