SOL performance comparisons between FCCPS and other school districts have little to do with how well our teachers teach, how well our administrators administer, or how well our school board supervises the superintendent. The comparisons simply reflect what we already know: that the City of Falls Church is a very small municipality where the vast majority of its residents are at the upper end of the socioeconomic scale.
The key to understanding this reality is simple and supported by countless studies conducted over the past 50 plus years – children who come from economically disadvantaged households generally perform poorer than classmates who do not. Accordingly, school districts with higher percentages of economically disadvantaged students will have lower average performance scores and vice-versa.
So how does FCCPS compare to other VA school districts with respect to the percentage of students who are economically disadvantaged? See VA Department of Education demographic data in chart form and in a spreadsheet. We have the smallest population, by percentage, of any school district and by a considerable margin.
The relationship between socioeconomic status and SOL performance does not mean that all economically disadvantaged students lack ability or parental support, nor does it mean these children’s parents are uncaring or neglectful. It does mean, however, that school districts with a high percentage of economically disadvantaged students are very likely to have greater challenges providing all students with a sound education.
Chief among the challenges is cost. As determined by the US General Accounting Office it typically costs one and a half to two times as much to teach a student at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale than it does to teach other students because of the need for additional, specialized teachers and smaller sized classes to help these students. A recent study by the Fordham Institute confirmed the validity of the GAO determined range of additional costs for economically disadvantaged students in several local school districts. For example, Fordham determined that Arlington County Public Schools spends about 1.8 times more on economically disadvantaged students than it does on non-economically disadvantaged students.
Given that Arlington County has about five times (by percentage) as many economically disadvantaged students than does FCCPS, and Arlington spends on average over 1.8 times more on each economically disadvantaged student than it does on non-economically disadvantaged student, why is FCCPS overall average cost per pupil ($18,174) so close to Arlington County’s overall average cost per pupil (19,040)?
Why is FCCPS’ average cost per pupil the 6th highest of Virginia’s 132 school districts when we have the lowest percentage of students who require the most money to educate?