School's Funding Is Only Portion of a Success Formula Experts Say Student Mobility, Income Also Factors

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Byline: Teresa Mask Daily Herald Staff Writer

At first glance, it may be difficult to understand why Fenton High School students appear to perform far worse than their high-achieving DuPage County peers.

The argument that District 100 doesn't have enough financial resources won't fly.

Teachers at the Bensenville school make, on average, $65,512 - among the top 15 teacher salaries in the state. Administrators make an average of $97,118 a year.

And the school district spends $10,535 on each student - about $4,200 more than the state average.

The district's financial data closely mirrors that of Lake County's Stevenson High School, yet students there rank among the top 25 in the state on every test given by the Illinois Goal Assessment Program.

While still above the state average, Fenton teenagers finished 284 and 208th, respectively, for math and reading out of 506 public school districts. They finished 111th for writing.

The data from the recently released IGAP scores reopen the debate over what some researchers and tax watch groups have long argued as the flip side to the school funding issue:

"There is no relationship between the amount of money that is spent and how well students do," said George Clowes, editor of School Reform News and a Mount Prospect village trustee.

Some Northern Illinois University researchers, however, argue money does matter. But it is only part of the equation, said Harvey Smith, director of the university's social science research institute.

For a true picture of student success, he said, one must look also at factors like student mobility rate and the number of low-income students in the district.

By analyzing these factors, Smith said he can predict how well students should perform. The irony, he said, is sometimes the wealthier districts achieve below expectations.

In that light, it becomes clearer why Fenton might have more trouble academically. With nearly 10 percent of its 1,416 students coming from families with low incomes and 6.4 percent still trying to master the English language, some students already arrive to school with more needs than an average student from the suburbs.

Fenton officials did not return phone calls, but the district has been working on programs to help boost scores. One program forces more parental support by asking students and parents to sign contracts setting expectations for grades, attendance and homework. …