Friday, July 29, 2005


Three cheers for the attached article by Vaughn Anderson, a former teacher who served on a school board for eight years and is dedicated to educational excellence. He lives in Seward, Neb. This explains the folly of the OPS attempted takeover of its neighboring suburban school districts better than anything I’ve seen. Thank you, Mr. Anderson, for giving us the data and the common-sense perspective that are so sorely needed in this controversy.


To be legitimate, the case to support the OPS merger must be built upon helping students and improving student learning. One could try to base an argument on equality of intentions (funding) but if this argument does not lead to better results, the argument rings hollow. In the end, results not intentions are important.

If OPS has done a better job for students than its neighbors, the merger makes sense. Let the best take charge to improve the rest. The ACT data from the NDE website tells a different story. You cannot find even one year where Omaha’s scores were better than any of the other schools.

Average ACT Scores of Students Who Took Core Courses or More (1999-2004)

(Ed. note: Mr. Anderson supplied tables with the following data that for technical reasons couldn't be posted as tables. It is hoped that the clear track record of OPS' ACT scores as inferior to the others' will still be apparent.)

OPS: 21.4, 21.3, 21.2, 20.9, 21.0
Bellevue: 23.9, 22.6,23.3, 23.4, 22.9
Elkhorn: 23.2, 23.4, 23.5, 23.8, 23.1
Millard: 23.5, 23.5, 23.7, 23.8, 24.0
Papillion-LaVista: 23.5, 23.6, 24.0, 23.5, 22.3
Ralston: 23.2, 21.6, 21.8, 22.1, 21.9
Westside: 23.5, 23.4, 23.6, 23.5, 23.8

Although I haven’t taken the time to study other NDE data (achievement test results, STARS results, graduation rates, etc) I do not believe they will support a claim that OPS is educationally superior any more than the ACT scores do.

OPS claims they have not received adequate state and federal funding to do a good job. According to OPS, factors demanding increased funding include poverty (free/reduced lunches), non-English speaking students (English Language Learners), student mobility (Mobility Rate), and special education numbers. Omaha does exhibit more poverty and non-English speaking students, but in the very expensive Special Ed category Omaha is nearly equal to the other schools.

The percentage of funding from state/federal sources clearly demonstrates that an effort to equalize funding has been made.

(Ed. note: again, Mr. Anderson supplied tables which couldn't be displayed properly. Here is 2003-04 data from the Nebraska Department of Education which shows the percentage of revenues each of these districts received from state and federal taxpayers, as opposed to local property taxpayers, and the key indicators such as student poverty which justified the level of non-local tax support under Nebraska' school financing system.)

OPS: 51.59% of receipts from state/federal taxes; 55.15% on free/reduced lunch; 12.08% English Language Learners, 23.56% mobility rate, 14.49% special ed

Bellevue: 74.55% state/fed (due to military's effect on local property tax structure); 20.94% free/reduced lunch; 1% ELL; 17.15% mobility rate; 13.15% special ed

Elkhorn: 33.52% state/fed; 8.16% free/reduced lunch; 1.31% ELL; 7.42% mobility; 14.17% special ed

Millard: 44.65% state/fed; 7.76% free/reduced lunch; .70% ELL; 6.978% mobility; 13.29% special ed

Pap-LaVista: 52.13% state/fed; 13.9% free/reduced lunch; .61% ELL; 12.83% mobility; 11.04% special ed

Ralston: 30.46% state/fed; 28.94% free/reduced; 4.53% ELL; 13.06% mobility; 14.43% special ed

Westside: 30.22% state/fed; 17.61% free/reduced; 2.19% ELL; 7.42% mobility; 10.44% special ed

Has state/federal funding been sufficient to permit adequate spending? Or has OPS suffered inferior results because of sub-par spending? NDE data shows that OPS spent more than each of the other schools (except Westside which is an entirely different story) by at least $815 per student. Put that in perspective. $815 per student in a classroom of 25 students is equal to $20,375 additional spending per classroom. And they filed the lawsuit which, if successful, will take money from other schools - widening the gap.

2003-2004 Cost per Pupil (Average Daily Attendance)
Elkhorn $7,311
Millard $7,341
Bellevue $7,517
Ralston $7,585
Pap-LaVista $7,605
Omaha $8,420
Westside $8,577

Does increased spending improve education results? Many studies show no relationship between increased spending and improved results. For example
http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa-518es.html (You might also take note of Westside’s spending and the ACT results compared to the other schools.)

In fact, some of the most successful schools, especially in minority and poverty neighborhoods spend far less than average. Other factors are far more important than spending in determining school success.

In my opinion, if the goal truly is to improve student learning, the OPS merger is a step in the wrong direction. Parental involvement and support is essential. As school districts get larger, parents and community members lose any sense of connection, control, ownership. Having no chance for meaningful input changes feelings of appreciation and support to indifference, despair, and anger over the helplessness of the situation. This isn’t a criticism of OPS, just human nature.

Instead of merging, OPS should be broken up into smaller school districts with school boards elected from neighborhood communities and district offices located in those neighborhood communities. When the responsibility for neighborhood students is given to a smaller community, people will step up, take responsibility, become involved and see that great things happen. This has always been the case in our country. Growth and the drive for efficiency in size have erased the chance to utilize this fundamental strength.

School board members in larger districts operate in a sanitized environment. Very few parents know the board members, have coffee with them, visit with them at church or the kids’ t-ball games. The main source of information quickly becomes the Administrative team. Board members receive data about test scores, the budget, staffing, building plans, accreditation, long term planning and the like. They also may hear reasonable sounding excuses why results aren’t better. All important, but not nearly as urgent as a conversation with an acquaintance whose 1st grader isn’t picking up reading quickly and may never be an adequate reader unless the school and parents work together right now to solve the problem.

Board members and administrators need that dose of reality to remind them of the importance and urgency in their mission. In smaller schools the insulating layers of bureaucracy are much thinner.

Vaughn Anderson

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