Selecting Cities for Comparison with Haverhill
For benchmarks to use in developing its school budgets and plans Haverhill can look to other communities with similar income and demographics. In this section we consider why adjacent communities may not provide the best benchmarks and identify Massachusetts Gateway Cities, particularly those with incomes similar to Haverhill, as providing plausible benchmarks. Such cities offer a basis for comparison of spending and performance to see (1) how well Haverhill is doing relative to others and (2) what performance may be realistically achievable within affordable school budgets.
Haverhill is one of 26 Massachusetts Gateway Cities that provide a useful starting point for comparisons. “Gateway cities are urban centers that anchor regional economies around the state. For generations these communities were home to industry that offered residents good jobs and a “gateway” to the American Dream. Over the past several decades manufacturing jobs slowly disappeared. Lacking resources and capacity to rebuild and reposition, Gateway Cities have been slow to draw new economic investment.” (Mass Inc.). The 26 Gateway cities are: Attleboro, Barnstable, Brockton, Chelsea, Chicopee, Everett, Fall River, Fitchburg, Haverhill, Holyoke, Lawrence, Leominster, Lowell, Lynn, Malden, Methuen, New Bedford, Peabody, Pittsfield, Quincy, Revere, Salem, Springfield, Taunton, Westfield, and Worcester. For more information on these cities see Mass Inc., About the Gateway Cities.
Similar-Income Gateway Cities
Among Gateway cities Haverhill is positioned toward the upper end in measures of household and individual income. So, for assessing school performance and school financing from the perspective of the median voter-taxpayer, it may be most useful to compare Haverhill with those cities nearest in median household income levels. According to the U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey for 2011-2015, the following Gateway cities are within $5,000 of Haverhill in median household income.
So we will use this group of similar-income cities for many comparisons. If one had to choose a single city most comparable to Haverhill one might pick Salem, MA. Although somewhat smaller in population, Salem, another Gateway city in Essex county, matches Haverhill very closely in demographic and income measures.
Despite their similar median household income levels, some of these cities show somewhat less diversity than Haverhill in poverty indicators and ethnic mix and as a group they have somewhat higher per capita income. This suggests slightly fewer challenges and more resources than Haverhill. So they provide an upper-bound benchmark, while the full set of Gateway cities provide a lower-bound benchmark, thus bracketing Haverhill.
DESE Comparable Districts
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) School and District Profiles website identifies set of comparable districts that, along with user self-selected comparable districts, can be used for comparisons. These are selected based on student characteristics: enrollment and special populations (economically disadvantaged, special needs, and English language learners). As of early 2017 the ten districts suggested as comparable to Haverhill based on 2015-16 enrollment are: Boston, Chicopee, Fall River, Fitchburg, Leominster, Pittsfield, Salem, Somerville, Taunton and West Springfield. Of these, only three — Boston, Somerville, and West Springfield — are not Gateway Cities. With selection criteria focused on student characteristics, the DESE comparable districts reflect challenges presented by student populations and so may be best for comparing performance. However, the DESE selection criteria do not account for local economic characteristics and resources; the cities it adds are not particularly similar to Haverhill in economic measures such as income, living costs, and tax base. Because this site, Benchmark Haverhill Schools, looks at both school performance and school funding we need benchmarks cities that not only face similar challenges but also have a similar capacity to fund schools. So we employ the DESE comparable districts as a benchmark for comparisons of school performance measures.
Two cities to note
Only two, Leominster and Salem, are in all three of these benchmark groups — Gateway Cities, median household income within $5,000 of Haverhill, and selected by DESE as comparable based on student characteristics. So Leominster and Salem are two cities to keep in mind as particularly relevant points of comparison with Haverhill.
Other Cities to Consider as Benchmarks
Haverhill is surrounded by several suburban communities with substantially different demographics and income levels. They are mostly in the top half of Massachusetts towns by income and some are among the highest in school spending and academic performance. For purposes of benchmarking Haverhill school performance and spending levels we are looking for comparison cites that face the same challenges and resource constraints as Haverhill. Therefore, for assessing school achievement and financing effort, we will look beyond neighboring towns and compare Haverhill with other cites with similar economic resources.
However, looking at adjacent and near-adjacent towns and cites can be useful for some purposes. Comparisons with these towns will be important, for example, for assessing the adequacy of Haverhill teacher salaries. This is because, whatever its resources, Haverhill must compete with these towns to hire teachers in the local market.
Haverhill falls between Gateway cities and Massachusetts average for many income and demographic measures, as represented by recent five-year estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey for 2011-15.
In population with less than a high school education Haverhill is about 2 percentage points above similar-income Gateway cites and the Massachusetts average and about 5 percentage points below the average for Gateway Cities.
Haverhill’s percentage foreign born is closer to the Gateway Cities average than the rest of Massachusetts.
In measures of poverty and public assistance, Haverhill is a bit higher than similar-income cities but below Gateway Cities average.Three benchmarks for comparison
The above three groups – all Massachusetts cities, the Gateway Cities, and similar income Gateway cites – provide benchmarks for comparison that are respectively somewhat above, somewhat below, and near Haverhill in most income and demographic measures. Realistic opportunities for Haverhill school performance and spending may then fall within the range of the outcomes observed for these benchmark cities.