Return on Educational Investment: Recommendations

Recommendations based on the analysis of "Return on Investment," a district-by-district evaluation of U.S. educational productivity.

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Our analysis leads us to the following recommendations.

Policymakers should promote educational efficiency

We must know far more about how well school systems are investing federal, state, and local taxpayer resources, and we hope this report launches a thoughtful conversation about educational efficiency. Specifically, policymakers should:

  • Work with state and federal governments to spark a much-needed dialogue about ways for education systems to do more with less
  • Direct academic studies at the state and local level of alternative measures of educational efficiency
  • Convene a national advisory panel to make recommendations on how state and federal governments can better support local efforts to become more productive

States and districts must reform school management systems

Successful organizations reward success, encourage innovation, and ensure the efficient use of funds. But these practices are frequently absent in our nation’s education system. Specifically, policymakers should:

  • Create performance-focused management systems that are flexible on inputs and strict on outcomes
  • Hold superintendents and principals accountable for the productivity of their organizations through the public reporting of efficiency metrics. Currently, only two states, Florida and Texas, produce school-level productivity measures
  • Increase the authority that principals and superintendents have over budgets, employees, and other operational decisions. For instance, states should eliminate mandatory salary schedules, which establish salaries at the state level, preventing local districts from setting teacher compensation levels
  • Provide educators with the tools, technology, and training that they need to succeed. Among other things, states should offer school administrators strategies on how to thoughtfully stretch their school dollar

Education leaders should encourage smarter, fairer approaches to school funding, such as student-based funding policies

Education policymakers should develop funding policies that direct money to students based on their needs, so that all schools and districts have an equal opportunity to succeed. Specifically, policymakers should:

  • Link increases in funding to improved student achievement
  • Reduce unnecessary regulations, including the reliance on state categorical programs, which often come with unnecessary strings and red tape
  • Develop funding policies where money follows students based on their needs, so that all schools and districts have an equal opportunity to succeed
  • Take steps to improve fiscal equity across schools, districts, and states and ensure that all students have an equal opportunity to achieve high standards
  • Support competitive funding programs that create opportunities for reform and innovation

States and districts should report far better data on school performance

States and districts should develop data systems that report reliable, high-quality information on school finance, operations, and outcomes. Specifically, policymakers should:

  • Advocate for greater transparency surrounding spending data. The federal government should also make permanent the reporting of school-level expenditures, which was mandated as a one-time requirement under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009
  • Develop statewide data systems that offer accurate collection, analysis, and use of high-quality data to track student achievement and other aspects of school performance
  • Require the federal government to annually publish a database that includes school-level achievement and accountability data, which is already collected through programs such as Title I
  • Collect, process, and report educational data in a timely manner. Currently, expenditure data is released at the federal level more than a year after the previous school year has ended

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