Friday, November 14, 2008

The Cost of Accountability

From Leonie Haimson, posted on nyc ed news:

New report from the IBO: The School Accountability Initiative: Totaling the Cost at

Accounting for about $150 M per year; $129.6 last year and $105 M this year – without the periodic assessments, which costed $26M last and $22 M this year.

Pretty good report but there are areas that the IBO left out:

For example, the 62 Senior Achievement Facilitators (including 32 Superintendents) who all report to the Accountability office and are supposed to focus on prepping schools to raise test scores and coaching the data inquiry teams.

These positions DOE originally tried to charge to the state through its C4E proposal, but was turned down by SED; each of these positions earn between $ 1 39,304 -- $158,602 per year -- for a total of more than $8 million.

There may be other areas as well that the IBO forgot to count… it’s not clear to me that this includes all the private courier costs, of picking up the Periodic Assessments tests at schools, to be scanned for the results. I’m sure there’s more there as well. (.The private courier costs now amount to more than $5 M per year – though not all of this can be charged to Accountability.

Excerpt: “In discussions with IBO, the department has taken a relatively narrow view, suggesting that these costs should include only the expenses of developing and producing the school progress reports, learning environment surveys, and quality reviews; school bonuses based on these assessments; and the cost of operating the Office of Accountability. IBO takes a broader view that also includes some school-based staffing costs and related items such as school support organizations (SSOs), performance bonuses, and other items contributing to the larger accountability mission….

Using IBO’s broader definition, we estimate accountability costs of $134.9 million in 2008 and $104.7 million in 2009. Note that IBO’s 2008 figure includes $20 million in capital spending for the Achievement Reporting and Innovation System (ARIS) data management system….
Also “Under IBO’s broad definition of accountability costs, we estimate that $130 million was spent on the accountability initiative in fiscal year 2008 and $105 million will be spent on accountability in 2009. Much of the 2009 expenditures are recurring because the initiative requires commitment of full-time staff. ….

Although IBO believes that the items mentioned above include all major accountability expenditures, there are significant uncertainties about the full cost of the initiative.

Accountability requires the use of internal staff, external vendors, software and other assessment projects, not to mention the use of pilot programs to test the utility of a product or service. This makes it difficult to pin down the overall single cost of the accountability mission. But it is clear that the initiative will continue to be a significant expenditure in coming years.”

Here is my summary:
· Progress Reports…2008 at $2.0 million. Projected costs for 2009 will decline sharply to $195,000
· Learning Environment Survey…Actual spending on the surveys has been approximately $6 million over three years
· Quality Reviews.. Cambridge Education has a $19.1 million contract set to last until August 2009 with more than $15 million encumbered.
· Central Staff/Cost: Aggregate salaries for the office cost roughly $11.1 million in 2008, out of a total budget of $23 million (accounted for elsewhere).
· ARIS (both operating and capital --(though IBO has not estimated the long-term maintenance and upgrading costs.) $22 million in operating expenses and $59 million in capital expenses so far. …
· School-Based Personnel (data Inquiry teams and data specialists) In 2008, $11.6 M with $3.1 million on school-based data specialists. Of this expense, $13.6 million was paid for by state C4E funds. Budgeted at 17.6 M this year.
· School Support Organizations.(one third the costs) for 2008: $18.5 million.
· Performance Bonuses. For 2008 for principals and teachers: about $20 million.
· School Success Grant Program; $30 million in 2007-8, but in 2008–2009 about $16 million, because grants for low-performing schools are being phased out.
· Also , in a separate category, the Periodic Assessments…more than $26 million in 2008 with a $22 million projection for 2009…though DOE refuses to admit that this is part of the Accountability initiative.

Can others think of other areas that should be attributed to this office? What about the contracts with Jonah Rockoff, etc. to study teacher performance, that is funneled through Battelle -- or are these privately funded?

More detailed tables here:

Here is a summary from Gotham Gazette:
Accountability Costs
November 13th, 2008

The Department of Education spent about $135 million on its cherished accountability initiative last year, according to an Independent Budget Office report released today. While such a number — most of it going for central office expenses, not teachers and classes — looms large in an era of cutbacks, at a press conference this morning Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, who requested the report, and her staff seemed more focused on what that figure does not include — and on the reaction from the department — than on the bottom line figure.

The spending, estimated to come in at around $105 million this year, includes progress reports, surveys and money paid as performance bonuses to school and principals. The largest chunk — $29 million last year — was for the schools’ controversial ARIS computer system.

The total includes money to pay the 79 people reportedly working in the accountability office. Although the Department of Education cautions that all jobs are subject to budget constraints, it lists six open positions working on the accountability initiative. The jobs seem notable for their opaque titles (director of knowledge management, KM domain leader for leadership and organizational management, summative assessments product manager) and salaries of up to $170,000.

But the $135 million does not include an estimated $26 million for periodic assessments — interim standardized tests. Gotbaum clearly thought that figure should be added in, but department officials apparently argued that, since the scores don’t show up in the progress reports (a.ka. school report cards), the assessments don’t count as part of the accountability initiative. It also does not include funds spent on the federal and state tests or prepping students for them.

According to Gotbaum and her staff, department officials have stalled on providing information since the IBO started work on the accountability initiative report last February. It seems apparent that the department, which has boasted of cutting costs in administration to spend more in classrooms, wanted as little attention paid to this as possible. Failing that, it tried to bring down the bottom line, calling in downward revisions this morning. (One may still be on the way.)

Complicating the IBO’s task is that the Department of Education has exempted itself from many accounting and reporting rules governing other city agencies. Saying the department “has not been as forthcoming as it should be,” Gotbaum reiterated her call for more financial oversight of the city’s largest department.

Sidebar: Is it just a coincidence that the high school school report cards came out the day before Gotbaum issued this report? The timing made many education observers wonder. The report cards were released online with no fanfare yesterday — even though they showed average grades for city’s high schools increasing significantly. For a department with a large public relations operation that trumpets every achievement however minor, the method of the announcement was curious. But by releasing the reports yesterday, the department did insure they got covered on their own — without discussion of whether the money spent to compile them was money well spent.

Leonie Haimson
Executive Director
Class Size Matters
124 Waverly Pl.
New York, NY 10011

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