Friday, October 24, 2008

To raise student achievement, overhaul school finance systems

Seattle, WA - After years of hard work and spending hundreds of millions to raise the level of student performance, educators, political and civic leaders, and parents still have not produced the results they expect.

Now we know why:

A basic flaw in these improvement efforts is that they look to the education finance system for solutions when the system itself is the problem, according to a team of nationally respected education scholars.

That observation arises from a five-year, in-depth examination of K-12 school finance in the United States.

The group's conclusion is simply put:

The bottom line is that education finance needs to be redesigned to support student performance.

According to Jacob Adams of the Claremont Graduate University, "States will never educate all students to high standards unless they first fix the finance systems that support America's schools. These systems dictate how much is spent, who gets what, how resources are used, and which outcomes are tracked. Unfortunately, the way they do these things no longer matches the results we expect from schools"

Adams chaired the group that conducted the study and has issued its report, "Funding Student Learning: How to Align Education Resources with Student Learning Goals."

The 39-page report summarizes the work of eleven scholars. It both describes the problems with state school finance systems and offers solutions.

"Funding student learning requires more than merely adjusting funding levels, tinkering with distribution formulas, creating new programs, imposing another sanction, or singling out hot-button issues," Adams says. "The system itself must be transformed so that resources can better support the ambitious learning goals the public now demands."

Key ingredients in the recipe for fixing broken school finance systems are:

  • Allow dollars to follow students to their schools
  • Integrate resource decisions with instructional plans; measure and analyze results of different expenditures
  • Actively support continuous student improvement
  • Define and fund a research and development agenda that expands what we know about effective resource use
  • Make resource use and academic achievement central to financial reporting practices, and use funding contingencies to create fair and meaningful accountability

The report was produced by the School Finance Redesign Project (SFRP) at the University of Washington Bothell's Center on Reinventing Public Education, with funding by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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