Get Down With The Sickness

In a stack of papers called Reform.

  • Nov
  • 10
  • 2007

We’re all sick, aren’t we? It’s a green monster that sits in our pockets, wallets, purses, and cars. Money makes us more ill than healthy. Schools are no exception. If they could be healed of the need for money, so much would be different, so much would be better. But schools don’t need more money, they just need to learn to manage their addiction and stop asking the public to pay for their bad trips.

The Institute for Research on Educational Policy and Practice (IREPP), operating out of Stanford University, produced an 18-month study on education finance. “Getting Down to Facts” (GDTF) ended March of 2007, with a concise summary of results released back in September. The report smacks California up one side and down the other in terms of managing dollars pumped into public education.

Caveat: Misplaced commas and repeated words, along with other grammatical and editing errors in the 8-page summary, make me scratch my head and question their expertise. Just had to put that out there.

The study works from three basic questions (paraphrased):

  1. What do we have now?
  2. How can we be more effective?
  3. What additional resources are needed?

Conclusion First

If our set of studies has one overarching conclusion, it is simply this — California’s school finance and governance system are fundamentally flawed.

Wow. That’s thumbs down in the Roman arena. I put together some thoughts about education spending a few years ago and a big research institute proved me mostly right. What IREPP says is that this state’s education spending is a mess of antiquated laws and systems with no accountability.

Know Research… No Research

Swanson's Hungry-man dinner modified for class size reductionIt seems the entire state is guilty of what my school has been doing for years: implementing changes without any research to indicate necessities and no monitoring to determine effectiveness. GDTF calls the class-size reduction bill to the stand:

For example, the 1997 class size reduction program is currently funded at $2 billion per year, yet there is scant evidence that it has been effective in improving student outcomes. It continues in part because we have not developed appropriate systems to analyze its effectiveness and to make decisions based upon evidence as opposed to hunch.

That’s a Swanson’s Hungry-Man portion of “ouch” for me. Near the end of last school year, I argued bitterly against my district’s decision to lift our class size reduction (we’re back at 30:1 for freshman English and math, the two subject areas this reduction impacted). An arbitrary decision to lift the reduction meant that it was an arbitrary decision to impose it. No one would admit that, though I wrote almost those exact words to a few people in charge.

Read the report (I confess: I’ve only read the 8-page summary (PDF), not the entire report). This state’s financial affairs are worse than a 16-year-old’s first checking account. Here are a few more quotations to leave you salivating:

[Regulatory requirements] impose needless obstacles on local school administrators causing them to focus on compliance, and its attendant paperwork, rather than on meeting teaching and learning goals.

California’s school finance system is unnecessarily complex and is not rationally aligned to support the accountability and performance standards imposed on local educators.

The one factor that emerged most consistently across studies as inhibiting local leadership was the difficulty in dismissing ineffective teachers.

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