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A report from Penn researchers found that the School District of Philadelphia is in fact doing more with less, but that districts across the state still would need $3.55 billion more to achieve academic proficiency.

The Consortium for Policy Research in Education released a policy brief last week summarizing the findings of Graduate School of Education professors Matthew Steinberg and Rand Quinn in a working paper titled “An Urban Myth? New Evidence on Equity, Adequacy, and the Efficiency of Educational Resources in Pennsylvania,” which was published in February .

By looking at “adequacy gaps” — the differences between per-student spending in each district and the estimated amount of spending needed to help the students of that district meet academic standards in 2009-10 — across the state, the researchers found that Philadelphia schools performed better than peer districts with similar poverty levels and academic performance.

While large urban school districts are known to spend more per student and show worse-than-anticipated re sults, Philadelphia schools performed better on both math and reading state standardized tests in 2010 when compared to similar school districts.

In Philadelphia schools, 56 percent of students scored proficient or higher on 2010 state standardized math tests compared to an average of 54 percent of students at the other 23 lowest-performing peer Pa. school districts. The research estimates Philadelphia schools’ adequacy gap to be $5,478 — more than twice the amount of peer districts. This means, in the report’s terminology, that if Philadelphia schools were to receive $5,478 more per student, students would be able to perform to standard.

Steinberg and Quinn called the higher test scores an “unexpected” finding in the research report.

“Philadelphia is, in essence, doing more with less, when compared to its peer high-poverty and low-achieving districts,” they wrote in the research paper.

The school districts with the poorest students had generally larger adequacy gaps than districts with smaller numbers of poorer students, the researchers found. Steinberg and Quinn advocated in their paper that $3.55 billion given to 412 school districts in Pennsylvania would close adequacy gaps in the state, bring spending to adequate levels and allow students to meet state academic standards.

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