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ROI on Indirect Educational Investments


Now that states are actually having to carry out the promises they made to compete for RttT funding, we're seeing major spending on evaluation systems and other non-educational activities designed to contribute indirectly to better educational performance. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation just awarded a $9.7M grant to help Colorado implement new teacher evaluation systems, content standards, and assessments.

However, the state estimates that it will take fully $42 million to implement the required new evaluation systems across the state, money lawmakers never allocated. Since Colorado did not actually receive RttT funds, the laws intended to attract funding are now creating an even larger financial problem, so private money is helping to fill the gap.

Having a robust teacher evaluation system is important and a great idea, but in these economic times, it's worth considering our anticipated ROI. We really have no idea whether better teacher evaluation systems will actually improve student learning (though one could argue they're important for other reasons regardless), and when we're spending this much money, it behooves us to find out.

While teacher evaluation investments are an unproven way to improve student learning, we have ample evidence that investments in direct services to students pay off. Studies like this long-term study of the benefits of preschool actually tell us what we're getting for our money. The study was published in the journal Science, which represents nothing less than the gold standard for scholarly work. Researchers found that a modest investment in preschool pays huge societal dividends:

The average cost per child for 18 months of preschool in 2011 is $9,000, but [P.I.] Reynolds' cost-benefit analysis suggests that leads to at least $90,000 in benefits per child in terms of increased earnings, tax revenue, less criminal behavior, reduced mental health costs and other measures, he said.

"No other social program for children and youth has been shown to have that level of return on investment," he said. SF Gate

Obviously teacher evaluation and preschool are not birds of a feather, and I'm not suggesting that we should fund only the latter.

However, as we put more and more money behind evaluation systems, data systems, and assessments, we will have every bit of information we will need to evaluate whether such investments are paying dividends for students. If they don't, perhaps database vendors rather than teachers will get pink slips next time our economy takes a nose dive.

It would be a shame if we failed to pay attention to our return on investment for these costly and previously untested attempts to improve results for students through such indirect means.

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