Theory


Four Issues around Using Academic Return on Investment (A-ROI) to Inform and Improve Decisions: Part III – Commensurability

COMMENSURABILITY Assuming that we have obtained valid A-ROI estimates for multiple investments, there remain issues to be considered and addressed when using those results for investment comparisons and decisions. The issues center on the extent to which those different A-ROI estimates can be compared to gauge relative cost-effectiveness and, if the answer is yes, how to compare them properly. First, there is the issue of different outcome measures. For example, A-ROI is calculated for three investments that are intended to increase reading achievement, reduce suspension, and improve sense of belonging, respectively. It is apparently inappropriate to compare the results directly […]


Four Issues around Using Academic Return on Investment (A-ROI) to Inform and Improve Decisions: Part II – Uncertainty

In the first post of this series, I discussed validity of A-ROI as a measure of cost-effectiveness. In this post, I focus on uncertainty embedded in A-ROI results. In the business world, ROI is largely treated as an accounting measure with certainty, but the certainty only applies to the accounting period. That is, for a three-year investment, the ROI result is a both accurate and precise representation of its profitability over those three years only. Consumers of ROI information are admonished about risks when applying it to the future or other contexts. Generally, little is provided about those risks other […]


Four Issues around Using Academic Return on Investment (A-ROI) to Inform and Improve Decisions: Part I – Validity

INTRODUCTION Return on investment (ROI) is a concept that originated in the business world in the early twentieth century. According to the Hagley Museum and Library, the concept and the formula were first developed in 1914 by Donaldson Brown, the Assistant Treasurer of the DuPont Company, for monitoring business performance as the company was grappling with diversifying from explosives to lacquers, Pyralin plastics and dyes[1]. ROI was quickly adopted by the DuPont Company as their primary performance measure for all of its departments and later required for all capital appropriations and projects submitted for approval by the company’s senior management. […]


Ten Key Concepts of Cycle-based Budgeting — Part I

Cycle-based Budgeting (CBB) is built on ten key concepts, which you will see throughout this web site and in the toolkit. You can use these ten terms to help explain to your colleagues what CBB is about, why it can be helpful, and how to do it.  Due to its length, this post is divided into two parts. In this part, the following five key concepts are presented: Budget as Investment Investment Item Investment Item Owner Investment Cycle Expected Return BUDGET AS INVESTMENT Differentiating certain budget items as investments sets the conceptual foundation for approaching those financial resources differently.  A school […]


Empower Leaders to Make Strong Budget Decisions by Improving System Deficiencies

This article appears in the January 2018 issue of School Business Affairs, published by the Association of School Business Officials International. Please note that the article was originally written in September of 2017. Click on this link to download the published version.    As stewards of the taxpayer money, district leaders often take most, if not all, of the blame for not using those tax dollars effectively and efficiently to improve student outcomes. What the public does not always recognize and appreciate, however, is how difficult it is for district leaders to make informed budget decisions and how much they […]


A Decision Tool and Two Decision Rules

Acknowledgement: the author thanks Dr. Buchanan for his critiques that helped improve this post.   The CBB Decision Tool has been uploaded to the Toolkit. This tool is intended for two purposes: ⚑ Provide two simple but powerful data points for making program funding decisions ▸ Cost per pupil ▸ Total number of programs a cost center will be implementing concurrently ⚑ Play what-if scenarios to see the resulting implications for budget and program implementation CONTEXT Ideal School District adopted CBB in 15-16 school year. After two years of implementation, 9 CBB-accounted programs totaling $21.98 million will reach the end […]


Setting Funding Priorities: What Does It Mean and How to Get It Done

As the year of 2017 is winding down, many districts will soon be or have been engaged in budget discussions for the 18-19 school year. One phrase that people will hear and probably use a lot is “funding priorities”. In this article, I discuss several confusions around funding priorities and lay out a path to successfully setting funding priorities that lead to strong budget decisions. FUNDING PRIORITIES What they are At the core of funding priorities are areas on which investment should be focused, such as equity, arts and music, culture and climate, and so on. This core should to […]


Cycle-based Budgeting – A Primer 2

How much money has been spent on literacy, student behaviors, etc. respectively by the district over the past five years and what is the return on each of those investments? How do we help leaders take actions so that money will no longer be wasted on ineffective programs year after year, but reinvested to meet the district’s needs instead? An district’s budget should mirror its strategic vision and goals by funding programs that most support these priorities and meet the greatest needs. Accordingly, an effective budgeting process should be engaged with both allocation of new spending and reallocation of existing spending to meet those goals. Generally, […]