The successful school district approach seeks to determine how much schools that meet specific outcomes
currently spend. This method bypasses some of the complicated statistical procedures of the economic cost
function approach and identifies school districts that have successfully brought student performance to state
proficiency standards. This approach then sets the adequacy spending level to the weighted average of the
successful districts’ expenditure level.
Unfortunately, this approach omits outliers (atypical districts) from the equation. This excludes virtually
all large, urban areas, very wealthy and very poor districts, as well as small, rural systems. It also may
inaccurately represent the actual costs of delivering adequate services in these atypical districts.
What have we learned from the successful school district model? After excluding the atypical districts,
those districts identified as successful are generally average size, nonurban, with little student diversity, and
that tend to spend less than the state average. Ironically, the demographics of a “successful” school district
tend to distort the overall picture about what it means to be a successful school or school district. By omitting
schools that must effectively address the real-world challenges of educating urban, rural, and high-poverty
students, the formula artificially lowers the costs for achieving success.
Closely examining the successful school district model raises more questions about the validity of its
use. This method and the cost function approach link educational spending levels with student performance
levels, but they do not indicate what instructional strategies schools should use or how the funds should be
distributed at the school level.