Trends In Ed: Mapping Educational Efficiency

| May 20, 2011

I could talk about article #594 in the series “college graduates are facing problems” that the New York Times ran this week, but by now I think we all know the drill.  Over-educated and underpaid (they tell us the median employed college graduate only makes 27,000 as a starting salary, which is pretty bad but also a lot better than my 10,000 for my first year out), the New York Times recommends we either go back to school or change jobs frequently.  Instead of belaboring the subject, I thought I’d talk about an interactive map the Center for American Progress built a few months ago.

The methodology is here, but the basic idea is to try to get a sense of how well each school district is using its resources.  As they write: “Our goal in this project was to measure academic achievement relative to a district’s educational spending, while controlling for factors outside their control, such as cost of living and degree of student poverty. “ This is similar to the sort of thing Skanda and I were playing around with, but also fitted out with a nifty map.

Unfortunately, the map doesn’t do much for me besides slow down my computer, and my suspicion is that this is one of those cases where the program was developed because it would look cool, rather than because it was the best way to present or think about the information.  Even so, I can note that the best district here in New York state looks to be the “Clarence Central,” which provides a great bang for the buck.  Also, while I didn’t attend public school, but Kenston Local School District in Ohio, where my girlfriend got her high school education, looks like it has some dead weight.

The proposals the CAP extracts from this data aren’t exactly earth-shattering either.  Suggesting “policymakers should promote efficiency,” or “Education leaders should encourage smarter, fairer approaches to school funding,” won’t exactly wake people up.  When it comes to statistics I am always tempted, perhaps only by my ignorance of the subject, to abandon myself to Carlyle’s nihilism:

“Statistics, one may hope, will improve gradually, and become good for something. Meanwhile it is to be feared, the crabbed satirist was partly right, as things go: ‘A judicious man, says he, looks at Statistics, not to get knowledge, but to save himself from having ignorance foisted on him.’”