Guest Contribution by Arthur Green
One of the things we learned from Dr. Metzler at Deliberative is that dropout rates are one of the Timberlane district’s most important measures of success. The Timberlane dropout rate of 0.85% was compared favorably against at least one of the “Leading Comparable” districts, and was used to vindicate the budgetary and academic policies of the administration.
As usual, let’s get some context. First as a table – here are the dropout rates from the NH DOE web site covering the period 2007/08 up to 2012/13 (which is the most recent year available on this metric):
Now let’s see that in a chart. I’ve eliminated the individual schools in the “Leading Comparable” cohort, and just kept the average of that group, plus the NH state average and Timberlane:
- We are looking backward at 2 year old results. Since then, we have had rapid cost increases over the last 2 years – cost per pupil is up from $13,329 to (estimated) $15,498 in the current year. This reported dropout rate does nothing to vindicate spending levels over the past 2 years
- The trumpeted Timberlane dropout rate of 0.85% is actual up 2 years in a row, from the low of 0.28% in 2010/11. Are we supposed to celebrate a worsening dropout rate?
- Timberlane’s dropout rate has been consistently below the state average. This is a good thing. But we also know that the state average is not a meaningful comparison. Looking at comparable districts with stronger academic results, Timberlane has been above that average, dipped below, and in the final year has crept back above. Not bad results, but not outstanding.
- What about the relationship to spending?
- Bedford cost per pupil: $11,540, $1,800 less than Timberlane. Dropout rate 0.08%, far better than Timberlane
- Salem cost per pupil: $12,383, $1,000 less than Timberlane. Dropout rate 0.42%, half Timberlane’s number.
- Keene cost per pupil $14,975, $1,500 more than Timberlane. Dropout rate 0.86%, a fraction worse than Timberlane
- Merrimack cost per pupil $13,440, about $100 more than Timberlane. Dropout rate 1.01%, significantly worse than Timberlane
- Conclusion: A district can spend much less, and achieve a far better result. A district can spend far more, and achieve a worse result. A low dropout rate does not vindicate high spending. We should be able to achieve a low dropout rate as other districts have done with lower spending.