Monday, November 29, 2010

CMS's extra teachers: Do the math

"Weighted student staffing" is a crucial part of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools' strategy for helping disadvantaged kids. It's going to play prominently in tough budget talks that lie ahead.

That's a challenge. Weighted student staffing involves -- pause for a collective shudder -- math formulas. That makes it tough to understand, and even tougher to explain in the limited space of a newspaper article designed for people reading quickly.

I've been fudging through the early budget articles with a vague description of extra teachers based on school poverty. My colleague Eric Frazier did an excellent job Sunday describing how high schools that don't get much help from weighted student staffing are seeing some class sizes balloon.

Unfortunately, while the data on class sizes was correct, we fumbled the description of the weighted student staffing formula.

It's important for people to understand this calculation going into 2011 budget. I figure blog readers are a good place to start; you're likely to stick with it and even suggest ways to make it clear to less dedicated readers.

Weighted student staffing starts with the premise that schools get teacher positions based on enrollment. Assuming a ratio of one teacher per 25 students (actual ratios vary from 1:22 to 1:29.5, depending on grade level), a school with 1,000 students would get 40 teachers paid by the state.

CMS uses county money to provide more teachers for disadvantaged kids. Lunch subsidies to low-income families are used as a rough measure of disadvantage (yes, I know there are questions about those numbers; that's a whole different topic). Each child who qualifies for lunch aid is counted as 1.3 students in the CMS formula.

So consider two schools with 1,000 students each. School A has a 20 percent poverty level, or 200 low-income kids. (Twenty percent is low by CMS standards; that's where South Charlotte Middle landed last year.) School B has 80 percent, or 800 kids.

School A is tallied as having 60 extra kids, based on multiplyng those 200 by 1.3. That would net about two more teachers.

School B gets credit for 240 extra kids, or almost 10 more teachers.

Why care? Because CMS is pumping $48 million a year into putting just over 800 additional teachers into schools based on that formula. They're not exclusively in high-poverty schools, as the example above shows, but most of them are.

Starting at the Dec. 14 meeting, the school board will start studying ways to cut roughly $100 million from the 2011-12 budget, which they'll vote on in May. That $48 million is sure to get scrutiny.

As controversial as it was to close buildings, many would say it's far more important to keep good teachers with kids. Brutal choices are looming. That means those of us who care about kids and taxes will need to pay close attention -- even if that means dealing with math formulas.


Pamela Grundy said...

Thanks, Ann, for starting this discussion.

Just to push it a little further, the numbers you mention would result in an average class size of 23.8 in the 20 percent poverty school and 20 in the 80 percent poverty school.

If funding for weighted student staffing were eliminated altogether, both schools would be at 25, a large jump for the 80 percent poverty school and a somewhat smaller one for the 20 percent school.

If instead the funds were spread equally among schools, both schools would be at 21.7, a difference of two students per class.

The upshot: getting rid of weighted student staffing is not going to solve the problem of 35-student classes.

(Actually, all the class size numbers would be larger, because the formula also covers a number of certified non-classroom teachers, such as elementary art and music teachers, but that's another subject also.)

Anonymous said...

I'm happy to see someone is starting to talk about the math behind the larger numbers when it comes to budget cuts. We've counted our change jar, now it's time to look in the account. Very interested in seeing student/teacher ratios and entitlements come under the microscope.

wiley coyote said...

Ann said:

(yes, I know there are questions about those numbers; that's a whole different topic). Each child who qualifies for lunch aid is counted as 1.3 students in the CMS formula.

Why is it you never do an in-depth article/study on fraud permeating the FRL program?

We all know there is more than reasonable suspicion of millions being wasted and fraudulently obtained through the program, yet you go out of your way to try and "help us understand the teacher ratio math" at the beginning of your article.

Doesn't it stand to reason that if the FRL numbers are bogus, the math you are using doesn't really matter in the end?

Until the USDA allows all school systems nationwide to fully audit the FRL program, I won't give you a plug nickel for any of your data.

I'd like to see a student turn in a paper using bogus data and tell the teacher "well, yes I used suspect data but try and overlook that".

They, along with you, get an F.

therestofthestory said...

What is the purpose of WSF?

Ann Doss Helms said...


The key phrase is "until the USDA allows all school systems nationwide to fully audit the FRL program." Right now, the federal government is handing out a truckload of lunch money and making the rules. I agree that some of those rules seem screwy, but I haven't heard that revamping the lunch program is at the top of anyone's legislative agenda. Nor does it seem likely and reasonable that CMS would tell the USDA to take their lunch program and ... well, you know.

So for now, re-critiquing the USDA rules doesn't seem like the best use of my time.

But it is an intriguing issue. Let's say the feds DID allow wholesale audits. And let's say CMS set up a Department of Lunch Fraud Crackdown, complete with an executive director for family income review and a handful of auditors. Let's say they went into all schools, demanded documentation and kicked kids off the lunch roster. What would you think? Wouldn't a lot of folks accuse CMS of diverting money from education into an intrusive new bureaucracy?

The question illustrates a real dilemma that's lurking: A true "protect the classrooms, cut bureaucracy" mindset could eliminate a lot of the accountability focus that's now in place. As budgets shrink, should requirements for testing and reporting results be eliminated? Should CMS get rid of the folks who crunch and report data and just let teachers teach? That would be a blow to those of us who aren't willing to take officials' word that everything's just fine.

I don't have the answers. But I can say this, Wiley: If you're an online-only reader, your plugged nickels remain safe in your pocket!

Anonymous said...

Thank you Ann, Pamela and others for attempting to provide some clarity regarding this confusing subject.

Know your audience. In the MBA world it's called; "Keep it simple, keep it stupid". Don't make my eyes glaze over. I can read the Wall Street Journal for this effect.

Enjoyed your Thanksgiving Day editorial.


Anonymous said...

The weighted formula should be eliminated because the additional teachers that a school may earn due to the number of poverty students are not always used to lower class size. Case and point if a school earns 30 teachers based upon the weighted formula, the principal has the discretion to TRADE the position or positions for other personnel.Trades can be be made for secretaries, teacher assistants, tutors, custodians, assistant principals, academic facilitators admin assistants,etc.So my point is that the weighted formula does not always result in lower class sizes for poverty students. The classrooms might still be operating by the state standards without the weighted formula criteria. Title 1 dollars should be used to enhance the teaching environment for poverty children.

wiley coyote said...


I'm a business analyst for a large corporation.

If I took suspect data into any of the major retailers in the country and tried to use that data or data they know to be incorrect, we would lose our credibility and possibly our products within those retailers.

When CMS and other school districts are facing teacher layoffs because of buget issues and we know millions are being wasted in the FRL program JUST within CMS, extrapolate that out across the country and you get money that could be redirected to where it is needed - the classroom.

Also, who says CMS has to add any bureaucracy? They have done sample audits in the past and were told to stop. All I, along with others want, are the CORRECT facts.

To be clear, I am NOT against the FRL program. ANY child that truly qualifies should receive the benefit. I for one am willing to kick those off who do not qualify. It's akin to illegals being in this country. Illegal is illegal, period and the rest of us have to pay for it.

Also, why should we "settle"? Why should we just go "oh well, that's the way the system has worked for years so let's just continue down the same slippery slope"?

Nowhere have I stated accountability should be eliminated.

It's funny you should bring up "not taking the word of CMS if accountability was eliminated". Isn't that what you ARE doing by accepting BOGUS FRL numbers? YEP!

Yes, I'm an online reader. I used to subscribe to the Observer but discontinued it almost two years ago because the time I get the paper delivered, it is old news.

Anonymous said...


Ann’s description of Weighted Student Staffing and what may happen next month is good but in the 1940’s Larry LaPrise wrote a much better version: The Hokey Pokey……you know “you stick your left leg in and shake-it all around, that’s what it’s all about”.

I expect to see every board member hopping around looking for loopholes so that eventually economically disadvantaged will include parents who have to shop at Harris Teeter instead of the Fresh Market.

PS. See the latest NC revenue report from Raleigh. You’ll be surprised!

Bolyn McClung

Ann Doss Helms said...

And Wiley, I'm not against correct data. I love it -- and yes, I suspect there are flaws in FRL tallies (oops -- we're supposed to call it "Economically Disadvantaged" now). But how do you clean up the roster without a labor-intensive review of individual family incomes? Right now it's pretty much an honor system based on family applications, and I've always thought the fraud in question was presumed to be false reporting from said families.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it really simpler than you make it sound?


1000 kids total
800 regular
200 FRL

800 + (200 * 1.3)
800 + 200 + 60
1000 + 60

which is really just counting
the kids then adding .3 for each
FRL kid 1000 + .3*200.

So it's quite simple.

Because you divide 1060/25 to get
your teacher count which means they
get 2 more teachers for FRL kids.

SCHOOL A=1000 + (200 * .3)FRL = 1060
SCHOOL B=1000 + (800 * .3)FRL = 1240

Then for the teachers just divide
the results by 25.

wiley coyote said...


We're hiring 16,500 IRS agents to ensure we all have health care coverage.

I'm sure these agents could handle one more add-on to their job descriptions.

Of course I'm being facetious but since the USDA is the one who manages the program, it should be up to them to discern who qualifies and who doesn't, not CMS or any other school district.

People should be required to apply to the Federal Government for the assistance just as they do for food stamps with the SSA.

When the President of the United States stands before the American people and Congress and boldly states he will pay for his health care program by eliminating waste and fraud in Medicare and Medicaid, I believe the same could be said of the lunch program.

Hey, I know it's a pie in the sky desire, but I can't just give in to the status quo and say "oh well, who cares?".....

Anonymous said...

So, basically, you get an extra teacher for each additional 83.333 FRL students.

Having 240 FRL's gets about 3 teachers.
Having 800 FRL's gets about 10 teachers.

Is that easy enough?

Anonymous said...

To adjust the formula, note that 25/.3 = 83.333.

so the additional teacher per FRL student count formula is basically the student/teacher ratio(25) divided by the FRL factor of .3.

If either value changes, just plug it in to see how many FRL students it takes to get an additional teacher.

But we all know the FRL numbers are bogus, but that's another problem.

OK, I'm finished with the arithmetic.

Ann Doss Helms said...

Wow, the math-lovers are out in force! Bear in mind that in addition to any questions about the FRL/ED numbers, the ratio I gave was a simplified example. An elementary school, for instance, would use a 1:22 ratio for K-3 and a 1:28.5 ratio for 4-5.

And, of course, individual classes vary widely, regardless of the ratio. And there's position-trading, as someone noted.

Nothing is ever simple!

Anonymous said...

Instead of counting each "disadvantaged" pupil as 1.3 student, why not count an "advantaged" pupil as 77% of a pupil. That's closer to how slaves were enumerated per the pre-civil war constitution.

Some of us need to tell our kids that they are really just 77% of a pupil, in the government's eyes.

Anonymous said...


How soon we forget that that the failures of the past are not the dollars but getting the desired teachers and principals into the schools.

You can tie a bunch of pesos on a stick and wave it in front of a good teacher and she’ll still think first about classroom conditions and all the other junk.

Two plus Two only makes sense when the Mad Hatter and all his friends aren’t on the bus headed to another day of fun, fights and failure.

Bolyn McClung

Anonymous said...

OK, when you statisticians figure it out, I'll check back in!

I have nothing to offer to this conversation other than reiterating my appreciation for those of you attempting to clarify (or somewhat simplify) this issue to the mass population. Have at it.

Anonymous said...

On a slightly different CMS topic...If a PTSA cannot pay for staff salary, how does East Meck manage to pay people through their "foundation?" Seems like they're driving a truck through a technicality of a loop-hole.

Anonymous said...

For 40 some years now, this society has been "...helping disadvantaged kids..." The full price tag is probably in the trillions of dollars. It doesn't seem to have worked. Let's keep on doing it in the hope that a fairy godmother will sprinkle magic dust on our efforts and -- shazzam! -- disadvantaged kids will become Rhodes scholars! Maybe we should concentrate on rewarding achievers.

Anonymous said...

Why are we pretending that CMS is placing teachers in schools according to poverty levels? This is nothing more than a numbers game. It's a ploy people to distract you from seeing where money is truly being spent. There are classrooms at some of our most challanged high schools with 35 pupils, all but 5 without an IEP and no assistant with the teacher. Many of the schools listed in the article have such large classes because Pete Gorman fired thier teachers. Many of the teachers that were let go were high level teachers that were dismissed two to three years ago.. Teachers that cannot be replaced. You have to be AP certified to teach these courses. All the teachers are stressed at CMS. I am surprised he let the CO have some of the class numbers. I wonder if it has anything to do with the Civil Law suits ? It does prove there is cruelty everywhere.

therestofthestory said...

Right on 5:31.

And so, what is the WSF used for?

And Pam, how much more is CMS sending Shamrock for your cheerleading?

Anonymous said...

Please forgive spelling(their,Challenge)

Ann Doss Helms said...

Bolyn, I'm cracking up -- what did you eat (or drink) over the holiday? Your commentary is even more colorful than usual.

On the East Meck question: Last time we wrote about their alumni-funded foundation, it wasn't paying teacher salaries. Instead, it's paying for classroom supplies and other supports designed to help recruit and keep good teachers. I doubt that has changed.

Anonymous said...

Simple enough.

K-3 1:22 ratio, factor is 22/.3 = 73.333 FRL for a new teacher.

4-6 1:28.5 ratio, factor is 28.5/.3 = 95 FRL for a new teacher

Just plug in the numbers.

Anonymous said...

What are we the taxpayers supposed to be getting for this extra money?

Anonymous said...

The reality in the classroom is that discipline and remediation are the primary factors which make larger classes more unwieldy. AP classes are bigger because these tend to attract students who require less support to be successful.
We can complain about lack of parenting and social conditions until the cows come home. As teachers, we still are responsible for the kids learning. More teachers make smaller classes which make it easier to teach kids who need help.

Anonymous said...

While you're Dancing for Dollars I'll be Waltzing for Wisdom. Then, we can do the Hokey Pokey and call it typical CMS day.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry but when I see $millions of dollars going extra into every school, I get the impression the EOG scores go up significantly. Since that is not happening, it looks like we can shift the dollars to the AP, IB classes for certified teachers to get those class sizes downn to 30 and CMS (and society) will see big rewards from these kids.

Anonymous said...

We have done the Leandro and Manning thing for over 6 years with no measureable, directly attributable improvement. If he wants us to come back into court, I will be glad to represent the suburban parents with our interpretation of the data. I will be glad to send him the stories from the failed Kansas City effort that lasted over 30 years and now the school system is worse than broke even with all the extra state tax money it got.

Anonymous said...

Never saw this while I was teaching high school. In fact, it was the opposite. The higher level classes (AP and Honors) have fewer students while the lower level classes (Pre-Algebra and Algebra) were packed to the gills.

You can guess which classes had the most experienced and veteran teachers, too...the high levels.

Loved teaching the subject...loved working with the kids...loved my teaching co-workers. Everything else about CMS stinks...especially the politics and red tape.