How productive is your school district, given the amount it spends?
An interactive website at www.americanprogress.org/issues/2011/01/educational_productivity is trying to answer that question.
Locally, according to the data analysis driving the site, the districts that come out on top include Williamsville, Wilson, Frontier, Grand Island, West Seneca and Clarence.
Among districts in Erie and Niagara counties that ranked lowest among districts in those two counties (although not as low as the outlying districts mentioned above): Sloan, Lackawanna, Buffalo and Niagara Falls.
The study looks at how well students in each district are achieving on standardized tests, compared to how much each district spends per student. It makes adjustments for the number of students getting free and reduced lunches, those who are not native English speakers, and those getting special education services -- with the understanding that students in those group generally cost more to educate.
Other variables, such as cost of living, are factored in to try to reach as fair a comparison as possible, the researchers say.
These sorts of comparisons are never perfect.
The group that put the study together, the liberal Center for American Progress, issued a disclaimer along with its findings.
"Please note that the individual district evaluations on the site should be interpreted with caution. The connection between spending and achievement is a complex one, and our data does not capture everything that goes into creating an efficient school system. We're also aware that some of the data reported by states and districts have reliability issues. Nevertheless, we believe that our calculations are the best available given existing research methods."
- Mary Pasciak