By Stephen Herzenberg for THIRD AND STATE: A progressive take on public policy in Pennsylvania

A new “big-data” base on U.S. school districts provides new evidence that Pennsylvania has many high-performing schools but many lower-income rural and urban districts that perform less well. A likely culprit: Pennsylvania’s inadequate state funding for schools. Low state school funding leaves moderate- and lower-income districts poorly funded and with less in total funding than affluent districts, even though the lower-income districts serve students with higher rates of poverty, non-English speaking families, and other challenges that hold back achievement. Most school districts in neighboring New Jersey perform well regardless of their income and wealth, thanks in part to more generous and equitable state funding for schools of moderate means.

The new data base, the Stanford Education Data Archive will be a gold mine for education researchers and policymakers. While waiting for definitive studies, we take a first look here at what the data base offers based on a New York Times story and interactive on-line tool posted earlier this month.

The story highlighted that the Chicago Public Schools delivered one of the highest improvements in student test scores from 3rd grade to 8th grade between 2009 and 2015. Its interactive tool allows users to enter a school district, and to extract information on how that school and 19 comparison districts in the same state performed over this period. The comparison districts change each time you use the tool, even if the school district you enter stays the same. The basic picture of how the school district entered performs relative to other districts does not change, suggesting that the researchers have been careful to make the other districts a “representative” comparison group.

We used the tool to examine the performance of Pennsylvania school districts. We then used the tool to generate information on New Jersey school districts. The table profiles Philadelphia and 19 other Pennsylvania school districts.

Read the full story here:

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