School Spending vs Academic Scores

Wellesley vs Belmont

My children, my wife and I attended public schools and universities exclusively until this past school year when we pulled our youngest from WPS and enrolled them in private school.  The pandemic was the impetus for my search for alternatives, but my final decision was based on my sense of declining academic quality at WPS.  Half of my opinion was based on personal observations, one of which was the realization that the Hunnewell elementary curriculum was essentially the same as when I began school over 50 years ago.   Having moved to Wellesley for the schools I found it hard to believe that the first-grade curriculum in Lexington, as described to me by my sister who is a first-grade teacher there, was so much more advanced.   This doesn’t seem like a big deal until you realize it’s Lexington, Kentucky where she teaches.

Being a fact driven engineer, I tried to find out if this anecdotal evidence was supported by the facts, and ironically, I found my answer in the 2018-2019 District Progress Report prepared by and distributed by WPS, themselves.   In the Peer District Comparisons section there was one stark comparison that can’t be ignored.  Wellesley spent $19,381 per student or 36% more than Belmont at $14,246 per student.  However, what was truly alarming was that Belmont outscored Wellesley in every grade level and category of the MCAS results reported, with the largest discrepancy (84% vs. 73%) in Grades 5-8 Science.  To be fair, WPS outscored Belmont on the Composite Average SAT score by a meager 1.4% or 1253 vs. 1236, but I believe that the likely explanation is Wellesley parents’ financial capability to pay for Russian math, tutors, and SAT prep which is strangely considered a necessary supplement to a WPS education.  The quantitative data is limited because WPS no longer participates in comprehensive national exams.  However, the data is consistent with the 2021 US News and World Report Public High School Rankings where Wellesley is in freefall.

I suspect that most parents in Wellesley automatically assume what we did, which was that once we move to Wellesley our children’s education is golden.  Furthermore, I suspect that this feel-good assumption is rarely questioned or revisited.  Well, based on the exceptional education my children are receiving in private school, I suggest you take a deeper look into what is actually going on in Wellesley and start asking questions.   At this point, you probably think I’m paying $40k+ per child for private school, but I’m actually paying $16k per student at Veritas Christian Academy.  Furthermore, the actual spend per child is much less than $16k because Veritas is a cooperative where staff children get to attend at a significant discount.  So why can’t WPS do better with $19k per student?

I must admit that my children (grades 6 & 8) want to return to Wellesley because that’s where they have all their friends they have grown up with, which is why I’m raising this issue now and hoping that WPS and the School Committee perform some introspection, and become more transparent, responsive and interactive with the community.  Public Speak is just not sufficient, and our school leaders need to stop hiding behind that shield and start answering questions. What prompted this post was my youngest asking to return to WPS, but in the same sentence saying that she “realizes that the education she would get would be much worse.”   She is eleven years old, so why does the School Committee seem so happy and content?

When I stand back and try to understand why WPS falls short, the overarching conclusion I reach is that Wellesley has lost focus and no longer takes traditional academics seriously or makes it a priority.  For the sake of my children, I hope they can find their way again and return academic excellence to Wellesley.