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Comparing State Educational Resources


AN OVERVIEW

School systems differ in certain ways from one state to another. The most obvious differences are due to variations in states' resources. For example, Connecticut has a much higher tax base than Louisiana, and consequently, can make more dollars available for instructional materials, teacher salaries, and facilities.

Many other differences stem from the diverse ways that states organize their school systems. For example, in most states each town has its own school system, but in Florida, Georgia, and West Virginia, schools are organized on a COUNTYWIDE basis. As a result, the school systems in those states tend to be very large, both geographically and in numbers of students. Consequently, if a family moves from Massachusetts to Florida, children may experience vast changes in the new school system. Accustomed back home to a small system in which officials were easy to contact, the family will now have to learn to cope with a large school system.

Even the terms school officials use can vary from state to state. For example, not every state uses the term SCHOOL DISTRICT or SCHOOL SYSTEM. In Virginia, school systems are called DIVISIONS; in Louisiana, they are known as PARISHES. In Indiana, some schools are known as CORPORATIONS, while in Texas great pride is taken in distinguishing school systems as INDEPENDENT, and New York uses the term FREE SCHOOL DISTRICT. Moreover, in over a dozen states some school systems are identified by number as frequently as by a name.

If a family moves to Arizona, California, or Illinois, they may be surprised to find that in many communities the elementary schools and high schools are in separate systems. These states have laws that provide for elementary, secondary, and unified school systems. Likewise, if a family moves to Massachusetts or New Jersey, they may encounter so-called regional high school districts. In all of these areas, remember that the management of a fourth-grader's school may be totally different from that of an eleventh-grader's school.

In some states such as Ohio, local school systems fall under certain jurisdictional restraints within county education agencies, while city and "exempted village" systems are subject directly to state laws and standards. In Virginia, most school board members are appointed by partisan political officials rather than elected by the general public. In a few places in the country, even local school superintendents are chosen by election. State superintendents of schools tend to be appointed by elected boards, appointed by the governor, or elected by the public at large. In states where politics play a large role in the governance of schools, you need to be prepared for significant swings in school operations.

Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Texas are leaders in organizing educational resource cooperatives. These states supplement the services of local school systems with organizations known as intermediate units or boards of cooperative educational services. Those agencies enhance the ability of local school systems to provide effective curriculum development, shared computer services, and programs for children with special learning needs. They can also benefit taxpayers through cost-saving cooperative purchasing.

Three issues that have had great impact on school systems across the country are educational leadership, educational technology, and school choice. In most states, EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP initiatives focus on training programs for school principals, administrators, and board members. EDUCATIONAL TECHNOLOGY initiatives include providing access to interactive television and computers. Several times the term "distance learning" is used; this describes a system where many students from remote areas can interact with a teacher via various audio/visual combinations. Such systems are particularly useful in smaller schools because they give students access to sophisticated course offerings that are found only in larger, more comprehensive schools. The SCHOOL CHOICE movement has provided parents and students with a variety of educational opportunities and programs, ranging from magnet schools for the performing arts to rigorously structured college preparatory schools.

Education policies and organizational structures can change frequently and rapidly due to changes in political parties, economic situations, technological advances, and a host of other factors. Because SchoolMatch data is updated continuously, and because of access to information from every state and every school system in the country, SchoolMatch consultants are always aware of current statewide education policies and initiatives.


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