Intervention Investments Have a Double ROI

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Investing in Students

Each year, district leaders and school boards place investments in intervention personnel and programs to raise academic achievement among struggling students. This blog post identifies an innovative model whereby an investment in intervention treatments can drive a double return on investment (ROI). Let’s take a closer look.

First, it is important to recognize that intervention treatment programs are repeatedly proven to raise the academic achievement of students that are struggling in school. As we raise student achievement, we increase the probability that students will complete high school and go on to contribute positively to our communities; they will have more earning power to support themselves and their future families independently. Please note that the foundation for a successful intervention treatment program is to select one with high-quality evidence of effectiveness. If you are seeking to learn more about this topic, please go to the National Center for Education Effectiveness.

The return on investment is based on improving the chances that students stay in school. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate drops precipitously with each level of education attained. Workers age 25 and older without a high school diploma have the highest unemployment rate, at 8.3%, along with the lowest median weekly earnings, at $626.

Educational research tells us that a student failing courses in middle school acts as an indicator for a student later dropping out of high school. Students at greatest risk of academic failure are those who score below basic, or does-not-meet, in literacy and math on state tests. Furthermore, when a student drops out, the district loses that student’s per capita state and federal funding.

How to Calculate the Return on Investment

Calculating the return on intervention investment (real-world example shown below) relies on calculating the per capita state and federal funding that a district loses with exiting students. For many school districts, the funding loss is material and substantial. However, there is a pathway to recover a portion of these funds.

Here’s the model for driving return on intervention investments.

  • Estimate the number of students that you plan to place into intervention treatment and the target for retaining students through high school graduation. Plan to start the intervention treatment program several years before the target grade for retention.
  • Estimate the investment for operating the intervention treatment program plus the likely funding that would be retained. Adjust the model as needed to balance out the investment versus the funding retention.
  • Search for an intervention treatment program that has effectiveness research demonstrating gains in literacy achievement among students scoring below basic in literacy and at retaining students through high school graduation.
  • Please be certain that your investment plan includes funding to ensure success in classroom implementation plus data collection to measure outcomes.

As educators, we know that raising student learning outcomes and preparing students for lifelong success is our ultimate goal. Each year, we place students and investments into intervention programs to achieve our goal. This blog post offers a model for a double return on investment by recommending that we invest in intervention treatments that are proven to raise learning outcomes and retain students through high school graduation. The post also outlines a pathway by which school districts can retain state and federal funding to offset the investment in intervention treatments.

A Real-World Example of Funds Lost

Let’s take a look at a real-world example of the mathematics behind this return on intervention innovative model. This data come from a real school district serving 26,000 students in the midwest. The data for this district are publicly available and were collected at the state’s Department of Education web site. The demographics of the students in the district are 62% low income, 20% multilingual learners, 18% annual mobility, and 14% on IEPs. The district has a four-year graduation rate of 64% and a five-year graduation rate of 70%. The district receives $2,730 in per capita state and federal funding each year. In 2021, the performance data across Grades 6–8 revealed that 39% of students scored below basic in English language arts. When we track the number of students enrolled in Grades 9–12 across four years starting in 2018 we see enrollment decline:

  • Grade 9 (2018): 2,740 students
  • Grade 10 (2019): 1,998 students
  • Grade 11 (2020): 1,594 students
  • Grade 12 (2021): 1,418 students

Here is the math behind the model.

  • Grade 9­–10: Enrollment drops from 2,740 to 1,998 = loss of 742 students. Each of these students will miss three years of school. 742 × $2,730 × 3 ≈ $6.1 million in state and federal funding loss.
  • Grade 10–11: Enrollment drops from 1,998 to 1,594 = loss of 404 students. Each of these students will miss two years of school. 404 × $2,730 × 2 ≈ $2.2 million in state and federal funding loss.
  • Grade 11–12: Enrollment drops from 1,594 to 1,418 = loss of 176 students. Each of these students will miss one year of school. 176 × $2,730 × 1 ≈ $0.5 million in state and federal funding loss.
  • The cumulative loss within this cohort and across four years is 1,322 students, which will impact their lifelong success.
  • The total estimated state and federal funding loss for this single cohort of students is about $8.8 million. Since we know that 6% of students complete high school in five years, let’s knock $0.8 million off the estimate. This results in an estimated state and federal funding loss of $8 million for these students.
  • It is important to note that while the calculation spans a four-year time span, a new cohort of ninth grade students starts every year. Therefore, this district is losing approximately $8 million in state and federal funding per year.

Recovering a Portion of the Funds

Now, let’s run through a scenario of how to recover a portion of the funds for this school district.

  • According to the data above, the greatest loss of students happens between Grades 9–10. The focus for the intervention treatment should be literacy across Grades 6–9.
  • In terms of instruction, the population of students at greatest risk of exiting from school are those that scored below basic on the state test. In this district, it’s approximately 800 students per grade. Therefore, this will be the focal point for the intervention investment.
  • There will be two goals for the intervention program. Goal number 1 is to raise academic achievement in literacy as measured by district benchmark and state tests. Goal number 2 is to keep students in school through graduation from high school.
  • For this scenario, we will assume that the intervention treatment is successful if it keeps an extra 264 students in school through graduation. That’s an extra 20% retention through high school. Since our intervention treatment is focused on Grades 6–9, the goal is to prevent students from exiting at the end of Grade 9. This will retain three years of state and federal funding. The math is 264 students × $2,370 in state and federal funding per year × 3 years ≈ $1.9 million per year.

It is true that spending dollars with the goal of getting students to graduate high school confers financial benefits to the school granting them their degree. But it also means that student can go forth in life with reading and math literacy—essential skills for moving through the world with confidence. They will leave school as a young adult with a high school diploma and the tools to succeed in their future college and career paths. This is the ultimate benefit of an intervention investment for students.

Intervention has the power to change the trajectory of a young person’s life.


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