Today, school districts are accommodating an increasingly diverse set of learners. The number of students receiving free and reduced lunch more than quadrupled in some states from 2000-2014, while the number of students on an IEP has nearly doubled in the same time period. At the same time, English Language Learners (ELLs) will increase almost 40% by 2030. State and local funding for K-12 education has been decreasing for years, and all signs are pointing to a continuation of this trend.
For districts, pressure is on to do more with less, and districts cannot afford to invest precious resources into programs that aren’t maximizing student learning and success When every dollar counts, here are three questions all administrators should be able to answer about district programs:
- Do I have a complete list of our programs and know their true costs? Administrators should have a comprehensive list of every program in use at each school and which populations they serve, being sure to include both instructional programs and interventions as part of the assessment. They should calculate the cost of the program, not only in terms of resource and staff allocation, but also in terms of cost per student, per year. This allows schools and districts to quickly identify duplicate programs and reveals misalignments in staffing or resource allocation.
- Which programs are the most effective? It’s likely that some programs are more effective or help particular subgroups of students more than others, and districts should have a firm grasp on the programs that are the most beneficial to students. This question takes a bit of analysis to accurately answer – many administrators approach this by comparing outcomes of program participants to demographically similar groups of non-participants, gathering input from parents and teachers, or identifying industry best practices to determine if district policy is in line. Leaders should understand fidelity of implementation by school, classroom, professional development efforts and teacher tenure as well.
- Am I allocating resources to the right programs? Administrators should understand the relative cost of each program as well as its benefits to students, and be able to assess if that program justifies the cost. Administrators can use this assessment to make tradeoffs when program cuts are necessary.
By answering these three key questions, districts are well on their way to making decisions that focus resources on the programs that are the most beneficial to students and are better positioned to communicate budget decisions and programming plans to school boards, parents, teachers, and the broader community.
For a practical guide on how to evaluate and audit existing programs, download our Program Audit Check List: