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Same Resources, Better Student Outcomes

Schoolzilla and ERS' Nisha Garg discuss how to increase return-on-investment from limited district resources

ERS’s Nisha Garg co-hosted a webinar with Schoolzilla, a data analytics company, to discuss how districts can use data strategically to find out if their resources align with their priorities. Garg shared two case studies where district leaders used data on class size, instructional time, and number of students per teacher to design strategies that would reallocate people, time, and money to better meet students' needs. 

Summary of the Webinar

Strategic School Design: When and How to Measure Current Resource Use

Strategic School Design is the deliberate alignment of a school’s resources around a clear vision for meeting students’ needs. Strategic leaders design their schools through an annual process that takes them from clarifying the vision to implementation and monitoring.

This webinar focused Step 2: Assess the Need and Step 3: Design the Strategy. This starts with identifying the right data.

Leaders often measure outcomes like academic performance, student culture, and adult culture to gauge school and student needs. But they should also analyze how they deploy people, time, and money. Then they can answer questions like: How have we configured our resources in our school/district to improve academics or culture? What structures exist? What structures are missing?

District A: A Case Study in Boosting Student Achievement via Strategic Resource Allocation

District A wanted to prioritize proactively supporting 9th grade students as they transition from middle school to high school. However, when the district assessed how it used resources, leaders discovered that 9th grade classes were actually the largest, and got progressively smaller in the upper grades. Furthermore, 9th graders were most likely to have a novice teacher in core subjects and nearly twice as likely to have a novice teacher than 12th graders. Even though it prioritized proactively supporting 9th graders, the way resources were actually allocated seemed to support 11th and 12th graders more instead. 

To move forward, the district needed more data. An analysis discovered that 9th grade students were more likely to be taught by less experienced teachers, school enrollment declined in the upper grades, and 12th grade students were often under-scheduled for a portion of the school day. Based on these  findings, District A chose the following strategies to boost student achievement:

    1. Reduce group size and reduce the number of students per teacher by reassigning teachers to additional 9th grade sections
    2. Change teacher assignment practices by combining small sections of the same course when possible to free talent for additional 9th grade sections
    3. Maximize total scheduled time by evaluating online/virtual learning options to maintain a breadth of electives for upper grades

ERS Tools to Measure Resources and Select Strategies

Without looking at current resource use, District A would not have been able to take the next steps to reallocate its people, time, and money to provide better supports for students in all grades. ERS offers tools that districts and schools can use to measure resource use and choose the best strategies: 

      • School Designer: Integrate your planning and budgeting processes so that key resource decisions - including those related to a school’s schedule, staffing plan, and budget -  are tightly aligned with student needs and the school's improvement strategy. 
      • Data Decisions Brief # 4: How Much Free Time Do 12th Graders Really Have?: 5 strategies to help close the college readiness gap by re-engaging 12th grade students
      • Budget Hold’em for Schools: Think creatively about resource decisions with this interactive exercise that challenges you to make choices to improve student outcomes and trade-offs to stay within your budget

The full presentation, provided below, provides visuals for the case study on District A and explores another case study that delves into measuring the percent of time spent in core subject areas. 

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