Cost-BenefitApart from the words “free ice cream”, there’s nothing more exciting in my mailbox than an e-mail that says “new web-based cost-effectiveness tool.”   Given the approximately 550$ billion we spend on K-12 education alone in this country, understanding the impact of our investment is more important than ever – so the easier it is to create accurate and complete cost-effectiveness analyses, the better.

The Center for Benefit-Cost Studies (CBCS) at Columbia University has just released Cost Out, a web-based tool to facilitate the estimation of costs and benefits of public programs.  The tool is based on the “ingredients” method, developed by CBCSE Director Henry Levin and Patrick McEwan, and described in detail in their 2001 book Cost-effectiveness Analysis: Methods and Applications.

The ingredients method involves tallying the individual components of a program’s cost.  In the education context, these could include teacher salaries, classroom materials, or administrative costs.  The ingredients method is often preferable to other cost-effectiveness approaches because it uses actual cost inputs rather than budget figures, and thus more accurately reflects actual expenditures for a program.