Inadequate Effort, Try Again


John Butcher, who puts the cranky in Crankysblog, dissed the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission for its nothing-burger draft report on “efficiency and effectiveness” of K-12 spending. The 120-page document, he says, ignored what the General Assembly asked it to do. He writes:

Of the nine recommendations, six talk about efficiency; half of the six deal with school buses; only one of the six deals with something that relates to education.  None tells us about the educational effectiveness of our school spending or how to improve it:

  1. Track teacher turnover.
  2. Provide facilities management expertise.
  3. Provide “guidance” regarding sharing information about facilities management best practices.
  4. Consider statewide contract for bus routing and monitoring software.
  5. Provide transportation management expertise.
  6. Assist with transportation management best practices.

As to virtual schooling, JLARC again avoids answering the question.  The three recommendations:

  1. Provide information about online schools.
  2. Estimate costs of online learning.
  3. Compare achievement of virtual v. physical schools

JLARC normally does better work. The advice in this “draft” isn’t bad, it just tweaks the margins. As I noted in a previous post, the last round of efficiency reviews resulted in $37.5 million in annual savings out of $15.7 billion spent, or about 0.2%. That level of savings doesn’t come close to addressing the magnitude of the issues facing our schools.

At the risk of sounding like a 5th-grade school teacher, I advise JLARC to go back, re-read the instructions, and try again.


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  1. I have to take partial issue with my friend, Jim Bacon on this post.

    It was my experience on a school board back in Illinois that, indeed, the management of the educational program revolved around the school district’s bus schedule. It tended to control what else happened in the schools. In my neighborhood, the buses would stop literally every 50 or 75 yards to pick up some kid. Granted, it was a high end suburban school where every parent felt entitled to have his kid picked up at the end of his driveway. Heaven forbid, the kid should have to walk to some central collection point in order to save time-consuming stops.

    It’s not much better here. In my neighborhood, there is an intersection where some of the kids collect. But not 200 yards away, an individual kid is picked up on a side street, where the bus must execute a time-consuming K-turn to get the bus going back in the right direction. Why can’t the kid, who always stands out there with her dad, walk to the other collection point where there are other parents standing with their children?

    So anything that JLARC can recommend about bus scheduling is fine in my book. The school system being run according to its bus schedule cries out for taking care of that issue before much of anything else can really be done.

    1. Schools must strive for efficiency at every level, including bus routing. So, like I said, there’s nothing wrong with this. It’s just small ball, and it won’t come close to addressing our educational challenges.

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    well, here’s what the JLARC report said on page 15

    ” Instructional efficiency cannot be reliably assessed
    Whether divisions use instructional funding efficiently to achieve instructional goals cannot be reliably assessed. There are no well-established benchmarks either for what constitutes an efficient level of instructional spending or for the resources students need to achieve instructional goals, such as the optimal ratio of teachers to
    students in each class. ”

    and indeed, what exactly would you have the schools strive for?

    just spend less money?

    Hey – if you REALLY want to move the ball down the field – get the folks who say they can do better than public schools to set benchmarks and throw down the gauntlet to the public schools!

    You’d think the folks on the right and ALEC and the other right-leaning think tanks would be falling all over themselves to show how non-public schools can beat the pants off of public schools on efficiency and cost-effectiveness especially with all those nasty bad-teacher protection unions!

    1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      One measure should apply to both public and private schools – for those students moving on to post-HS education, how many (raw numbers and percentages) need to take remedial courses?

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        that’s an excellent metric, TMT.

        I’d have them add, in addition to college metrics, how many non-college-bound – get jobs and average salary.

        but these are outcome-based metrics.. harder to really get and track.

        what performance-based metrics would you favor?

        Like – how many kids get Vocation Certificates?

        how many kids take AP courses, what courses and pass rate?

        I notice that AP participation rates are not particularly high even at the better schools, lower at lower tier schools and horrendous pass rates at lower tier schools.

        But how do we establish benchmarks for these?

        Would we go to private high schools and see what their AP participation and pass rates are?

        Do private high schools have a non-college job path for kids?

        what’s the benchmark for non-college career paths?

  3. Hill City Jim Avatar
    Hill City Jim


    “Whether divisions use instructional funding efficiently to achieve instructional goals cannot be reliably assessed. There are no well-established benchmarks either for what constitutes an efficient level of instructional spending or for the resources students need to achieve instructional goals, such as the optimal ratio of teachers to
    students in each class”

    Then why even have the Standards of Quality which dictate those ratios and spending levels if they cannot be reliably assessed? Or should we just give the Educrats the one thing that they want…mo’ money?

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      HCJ – to my mind – the SOQs are minimum staffing level standards and the SOLs are minimum performance standards –

      whether there is efficient use of funds or not is not necessarily a direct correlation.

      unless you want to say the least amount of money spent to achieve the minimum SOLs is the superior efficiency to which I might not disagree.

      I think Fordham or some other similar think tank ( I want to say Clara Barton or some such) did such a study a couple of years back where they somehow had ranked dollars spent vs performance achieved.

      I’m not opposed to benchmarks, I’d favor them but I’m not sure how you’d account for things like a higher percentage of economically disadvantaged or a young, less experienced teaching staff.

      And how would you compare – say a narrow focused school that concentrated mostly on core academics without many extra bells and whistles verses a school that offers swimming, guitar and photo journalism?

  4. Hill City Jim Avatar
    Hill City Jim

    All the more reason for the taxpayers to provide and pay for only the SOQ programs and let the parents/participants pay the additional costs for swimming, guitar and photo journalism.
    Somewhere the court’s decision that required the taxpayers to fund a free and “appropriate” public education has gotten a little out of hand!

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      well, if you could get a state law that required the schools to specifically identify what they fund from discretionary money over and above the required SOQ match – at the least, taxpayers could at least know and give their approval or disapproval.

      Do me a favor and check your Lynchburg budget and tell me if you can identify the SOQ spending and the discretionary spending distinctly.

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