From the Editor
School Finance and STEM Reports
Anne Wujcik — Friday, April 22, 2011
You have until 5PM Pacific to vote for your top five choices among the finalists for the inaugural EdNET's Best Leaders to Watch. Two other things of note this week. Rhode Island has launched a new financial reporting system. The Uniform Chart of Accounts (UCOA), which the R.I. Department of Education (RIDE) developed in partnership with the Auditor General and all school districts in the state, is a system of numbers and a method of accounting that provides transparency, uniformity, accountability, and comparability of financial information for all schools and districts. I know for a lot of you this sounds pretty boring, but I spend a lot of time first just looking for reliable numbers about state and school district spending and then trying to compare and analyze them. The state level charts, along with account definitions, do a nice job of laying out how RI spends its education dollars. I have to spend more time with the district-reports, but the state DOE says that the system allows users to compare financial data across school districts in a reliable, consistent manner. If you have any interest in this type of information take a look at the UCOA home page at http://www.ride.ri.gov/Finance/funding/Uniform%20Chart%20of%20Accounts/Default.aspx.
Granted, these are summaries of spending, often categorized into fairly large pots. I know that the people who call me looking for doe state or district-level spending data often want very specific and very detailed information. And the data are as good as the people who compiled and submitted the summary information, but that's true no matter what type of system you are using. The frustrating thing about school finance is that you know the information is out there. It's just really hard to fund and even harder to make sense of. I've come across detailed accounting reports at some state sites, but the numbers are presented in such an arcane way that even a fairly dedicated lay reader will find it almost impossible to make any sense out of the information.
The UCOA reports are based on SchoolNomics™, a methodology that links all costs that benefited students to individual schools in a district. SchoolNomics is used to benchmark every district's spending on a per-pupil basis. The SchoolNomics methodology was provided by EDmin, a San Diego-based educational software company. SchoolNomics is powered by IN$ITE® and owned by EDmin. The patented process was developed by the international accounting firm, Coopers and Lybrand (now PricewaterhouseCoopers) and has been recognized for "school site reporting prowess" by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).
Change the Equation (CTEq) issued a set of new state-specific "Vital Signs" reports assessing the condition of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) learning in each state. Change the Equation, a coalition of over 110 corporate CEOs, is dedicated to deepening American students' STEM learning. CTEq's goal is to improve STEM education for every child, with a particular focus on girls and students of color, who have long been underrepresented in STEM fields.
The state reports pull together data from the 4th and 8th grade National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and compared them to proficiency rates on the state test and includes information on achievement gaps, preparing and succeeding in college and STEM-related teaching and learning. All of this is available in other places, but the focus on math and science and the clear, graphic presentation makes these reports very useful.
As they released the reports, CTEq also sent out letters alerting governors to the reports' finding that most states have not set the bar high enough when measuring student proficiency in STEM subjects.
One of the most interesting findings to me is that 54% of the nation's 4th graders and 47% of its 8th graders report that they "never or hardly ever" write reports about science projects. Thirty-nine percent of 8th graders report that they "never or hardly ever" design a science experiment. To me that says that there is still a lot of lecture and text-based instruction going on in the science classrooms of America. Science begs to be hands-on and student engagement sky rockets when they are allowed to experiment. Writing science reports provides wonderful opportunities for students to organize data and analyze their experiences, just like real scientists do. This type of teaching is often messy and teachers need not just a firm grip on content, but a sure hand organizing and managing students. Until all students have access to challenging and active science leaning, it will be hard to nudge the achievement bar upwards. It will be interesting to see the approach to instruction laid out in the new science standards that are now under development.