TXSmartSchools.org is built on the foundational work of the Financial Allocation Study for Texas (FAST) launched by Susan Combs during her tenure as Texas Comptroller. Now housed at Texans for Positive Economic Policy and administered by Texas A&M University in College Station, this online resource empowers school districts to benchmark themselves against their peers and enables parents to assess the quality of education their children are receiving compared to its cost. The goal is to improve education by identifying Smart Schools that are both effective and efficient, and then highlight their successful practices.
In an incredibly diverse state with more than 27 million residents living across a wide range of economic conditions and geographies, making valid comparisons, isolating real trends, and identifying best practices are no small challenge. We recognize that differences in student body and geography clearly affect both student performance and cost. By incorporating adjustments for educational context into our methodology, we are making it easier to identify which schools are delivering on their promise to Texas students.
Our Apples2Apples Comparison tool is a data resource that focuses on particularly useful indicators of student performance and then cross-indexes them with spending levels. Instead of focusing solely on traditional test scores, the system considers a multitude of factors to create a fairer more nuanced measure of academic progress. This metric allows users to identify schools that are “beating the odds” based on demographics, past performance history, and overall progress. On the financial side, our methodology evaluates districts along multiple dimensions to find those that are most similar, allowing for a more apples-to-apples comparison between suggested peers. However, those parameter sets are only suggestions; users of the system may also build their own comparison lists.
Analyzing the State’s Investment
We are able to identify schools and districts that are getting the maximum student performance in return for each taxpayer dollar by accurately identifying authentic fiscal peers (those with similar characteristics such as language proficiency, utilization of free/reduced price meals, district size, etc.) then comparing their core expenditures. Overlaid with academic achievement, this metric provides a comparative picture of unprecedented clarity.
A Better, More Nuanced Model
TXSmartSchools has leveraged the latest available data and responded to feedback from school districts to improve its academic progress measures by:
- Paying closer attention to the relationship between student performance and limited language proficiency across different grade levels.
- Accounting for differences in the accuracy of student/student body’s economic status measures between elementary and high schools.
- Using newly updated measures of labor cost differences across the state when matching fiscal peers
- Adding a student mobility index to measure the likelihood students will stay in one place long enough to get onto a learning trend. Excessive mobility not only affects both the mobile kid and the classrooms to/from which they move, but also arguably drives up cost.
Introducing the Apples2Apples Comparison Tool
School districts in Texas work very hard to identify and adopt best practices. The Apples2Apples comparison tool will make that task easier. Like its predecessor, the Comptroller’s FAST Tracker, our comparison tool looks at academic, financial, and demographic data and identifies school districts and campuses that produce high academic progress while maintaining cost-effective operations. However, Apples2Apples improves on FAST by incorporating more information about student needs to better adjust for cost and performance factors that are beyond school district control.