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M-R238 Strategic Plan: Is Wheaton-Warrenville an Appropriate Comparison?

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On Tuesday, January 25, Monmouth-Roseville District 238 held a public meeting to ask for community involvement in developing a strategic plan for the district.  Superintendent Woehlke discussed how district finances are still very tight, and academic achievement in the district has hovered just above or just below the state average for the last five years.  As a part of this meeting, Margo Sorrick, Assistant Superintendent for Educational Services at Wheaton-Warrenville District 200, gave a presentation on how her district has consistently maintained high and yet steadily improving levels of academic achievement.

While I think we can always learn from the experiences of others – both successes and failures – I’m not sure how applicable Wheaton-Warrenville’s situation is to M-R238.  Comparing the districts on the Illinois Interactive Report Card, there are a few notable similarities, but also numerous glaring differences between the districts.

Similarities: Both districts have a large Hispanic minority (M-R238 17.5%, W-W200 11.3%) and a similar percentage of students with limited English proficiency (M-R238 6.1%, W-W200 8.2%).  Exploring how W-W200 deals with English as a Second Language (ESL) issues could provide M-R238 with useful information.

Differences: The most profound difference is the level of poverty – M-R238 is 54% low income with 22% student mobility, while W-W200 is only 23% low income with 8.7% student mobility.   Poverty is clearly linked to lower educational achievement for a multitude of reasons: lower levels of parental education, higher levels of drug & alcohol abuse, more single parent households, etc.  Student mobility (a measure of student turnover, both in and out of the district, within a given school year) is closely linked with poverty but independently associated with grade retention and failure to graduate high school.

Educating impoverished students with high levels of student turnover is more expensive because the schools have to make up for educational opportunities that are simply unavailable at home.  Yet in comparing W-W200 with M-R238, the DuPage County district spends almost $2400 more per pupil annually on student instruction vs M-R238 (2008-2009 data).  According to the IIRC data, M-R238 serves 1720 students, so to increase spending on student instruction per pupil to match W-W200, the district would have to increase its expenditures by over $4 million dollars per year, a 28% increase.  Does anyone think that the residents of Warren County would be willing to shoulder the tax increase necessary to provide that level of spending per pupil?

So there is a relatively wealthier student population in Wheaton-Warrenville that thus has fewer needs, but that district is spending thousands of dollars more pupil to educate those students.  I can’t help but think that those demographic and financial differences have a lot to do with the achievement gap between the two districts, so I’m doubtful at the benefit gained by emulating W-W200.

The differences between the districts don’t end there.  W-W200 has almost ten times the number of students enrolled as M-R238.  The average annual teacher salary in W-W200 is $30K more that in M-R238, although cost of living is significantly higher in DuPage County (per Sperling’s cost of living calculator, it’s 49% more expensive with housing costs a whopping 295% higher).  While levels of teacher experience are similar, 85% of W-W200 teachers have a Master’s Degrees vs 23% of M-R238 teachers.

I’m sure that M-R238 can learn from the success of W-W200.  I totally agree with  Margo Sorrick that “We need to prepare our students for their future, not our past.”  Exposure to cutting edge technology is essential, and quality improvement strategies like those used in W-W200 should be implemented.  However, we must also look for other examples of success in districts with similar levels of poverty and student mobility.  M-R238 needs to find solutions that are practical and affordable based on the needs of this rural yet ethnically diverse district.

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Written by Matthew

January 28, 2011 at 7:56 am

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