The DeHavilland Blog

Monday, February 26, 2007

Survey speculation, part 1

In our recent survey report, I was careful to only address what I had found, and not speculate on the reasons behind the data. However, some of the results do raise questions, and since a blog is the perfect place for speculation I wanted to note them and take a stab at addressing them here.

Today’s topic: Why is the reported value of partnerships so low?

Nearly half of district and school officials participating in the survey stated that they received $25,000 or less in value from all their partnership efforts over the previous 12 month period; if you add in the next tier, we can state that 60.8% received $50,000 or less over that period.

If you look at the breakout by title – whether the respondent was at the district or school level – the results are even more interesting. I didn’t include this crosstab in the published results, since the wording of the question didn’t allow me to confidently determine whether respondents were speaking from a district or a school perspective. But I’ll share those results here; while I can’t say that these numbers are exactly right, the great difference between these breakouts and the composite numbers is worth noting.

  • General numbers: $25K or less=43.6%, $25-50K=17.2%
  • District administrators: $25K or less=32.7%, $25-50K=17.3%
  • Principals only: $25K or less=63.7%, $25-50K=17.6%

I was very surprised to see that nearly 2/3 of principals report receiving less than $25,000 per year from partnerships. After all, the vast majority of funds that a school receives are non-discretionary – by some estimates, principals have less than $50,000 in discretionary funds to work with out of a budget of millions. One would think that they’d do anything they could to attract additional funds they could work with.

Why are these values so low, when the benefits of partnerships should have people scrambling to bring in outside support? Some possible explanations:

  • Contributions are not being valued correctly. Only one of the four partner categories had an explicit dollar amount attached to it; the other three (volunteering, goods and services, and expertise) did not. It’s possible these contributions aren’t being listed correctly.
  • Contributions are not being recorded. More than 60% of respondents stated that they track information on partnership inputs (funds, volunteer hours, etc.) only sometimes, or not at all.
  • The principal isn’t aware of some partnerships and contributions. Of course they know when a company sponsors the scoreboard – but are they aware of how many hours volunteers log in each classroom?
  • The school has limited partnership development resources. While districts may have dedicated partnership staff and a communications department to handle outbound solicitations, schools rarely have these types of resources. Partner development is bundled in as one more item in a job description, one which can get crowded out given the demands on school personnel.
  • School personnel have limited experience in developing partnerships. Partnership development tends to be a trial by fire process – it’s something you pick up as you go, and it takes some time to learn how to recruit and build effective, longstanding partnerships that provide benefits to all parties.

Any or all of these could be an issue, and without further research (currently being planned) I can’t say with any certainty why partnerships are so limited in value. What I can say is that there’s tremendous potential for growth in this field, which would not only increase the resources available to schools, but would help schools integrate more fully into their communities.

Next up: exploring the differences between suburban, urban, and rural schools.

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