How west metro schools stack up

Now that the Minnesota Department of Education has released the 2009 Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments II results, I pored over the high school data to compare the test results among west metro school districts. I added per-pupil spending and enrollment data from School Data Direct to see if I could find any relationships among test data, spending, and district size (the latter two are the most recent published data).

District Math (11) Reading (10) Science (HS) Per Pupil Spending 05-06 Enrollment 07-08
Hopkins 66.0 84.7 48.1 $10,253.00 7,672
Minnetonka 64.4 92.5 76.0 $8,311.00 7,974
Orono 60.8 92.1 73.9 $7,850.00 2,662
Osseo 41.8 75.9 50.5 $9,287.00 21,859
Robbinsdale 41.7 69.0 43.1 $9,126.00 12,891
Wayzata 71.5 90.5 72.7 $8,189.00 9,990
Minnesota 41.6 74.2 50.0 $9,159.00 840,565

MCA-II scores are not the only indicator of school performance, but they are one way that you can compare all districts in the state. Another is composite ACT scores: students in all of these districts are performing comparably well.

Although Minnetonka, Orono, and Wayzata score above state averages on the MCA-II standardized tests, contrary to what you might expect, they spend significantly less per pupil than the state average. Part of this is due to the fact that these districts receive less money from the state due to, well, politics. One glance at Minnesota School Finance, a primer for legislators on K-12 education finance, confirms this. The funding formula and plethora of categorical aids are ostensibly in place to ensure equal outcomes for all students, but is there a direct link between spending and performance?

It used to be that our independent school districts (and local governments) were funded by local property taxes, until the so-called "Minnesota Miracle" largely shifted these burdens to the state, which collects sales and income taxes. Because sales and income taxes are more sensitive to economic conditions than property taxes, they are subject to wildly varying levels of collection. The system also relocates much accountability from the school district and city hall to the corridors of power at the state capitol.

Although the Minnesota Miracle of wealth redistribution supposedly jibes with Minnesotans' sense of fairness (any law that robs Peter to pay Paul will always have the support of Paul), it has the effect of making government less transparent and responsive to taxpayers.