Relationships between District Size, Socioeconomics, Expenditures, and Student Achievement in Washington

Article excerpt

The purpose of this article is to describe the relationship between district size, socioeconomic status, actual levy percentages, and their predictive influence on the 2003 Washington Assessment of Student Learning results for 4th and 7th grade students in Reading and Mathematics. The convenient sample was 82 Washington State 2nd-Class school districts with enrollments between 500-2,000 students. The results indicated: (a) no significant correlations between achievement and district size; (b) socioeconomic status was the best predictor of achievement; and (c) actual levy percentages and student outcomes were significantly correlated in the positive direction.

Introduction

The purpose of this state study was to: (a) to explore relationships between district size and student achievement; and (b) to explore relationships between socioeconomic status and student achievement; and (c) to explore relationships between district financial resources allocation as measured by actual levy percentages and student achievement in Washington State 2nd class school districts. The study also examined which of these variables (district size, SES, and actual levy percentages) was the best predictor of student achievement.

Washington school districts with enrollment parameters below 2,000 are classified as second-class school districts (Revised Code of Washington 28A.300.065). Districts below the enrollment levels of 500 were not included in the study, since statistical procedures are difficult to conduct with low sample and population targets. Consequently, eighty-two Washington school districts met the enrollment parameters between 500 to 2,000 students for this study.

The sample of districts represented approximately 28% of the total number of 296 school districts in Washington State. According to the Human Services policy Center at the University of Washington, 70% of these 82 school districts were classified rural, 29% suburban, and the remaining 1% in the urban category (Washington Kids Count, 2003). Further analysis revealed that the 82 school districts were located in 34 out of 39 Washington State counties. Western Washington counties were represented by forty districts and likewise, Eastern Washington counties were represented by the other 42 school districts. Generally, the eastern demarcation for Washington State is considered east of the Cascades mountain range.

District size was investigated as a factor due to current literature regarding the efficacy of system size and its influential dynamics on student outcomes. Socioeconomic status was defined as free and reduced meal percentages at the district level. Finally, actual levy percentages represented a component of district financial resources. In Washington State, actual levy percentages represent local property taxes in which a local district includes in their overall budget for the purpose of general fund revenues. For the purpose of this study, it was hypothesized that student achievement was significantly influenced by socioeconomic status but that smaller districts mitigated the negative influence of SES. Secondly, it was hypothesized that actual levy percentages as an indicator of a district's financial resources would have a significant correlation with student outcomes.

Despite the extensive and diverse solutions to overhaul our schools following the unveiling of A Nation at Risk in 1983, and the earlier publication by Conant (1959), a contemporary resurgence of empirical interest has shifted towards school system size, socioeconomic status of students, district financial resources allocation, and their influence on student outcomes. In a major study that involved a sampling of 38 states, Walberg and Walberg (1994) reported that achievement is significantly and inversely related to average district and school sizes, and state share of expenditures. They further concluded states with larger districts and larger schools and that pay a greater share of public school costs do worse in achievement. …