Student-Centered Learning Need Not Cost Districts More
A new study of the financial implications for public schools embracing student-centered learning (SCL) models reveals that districts don’t need to spend more on these schools if they fund all schools fairly, and then allow schools to make choices about how they use their resources.
The report, Getting Down to Dollars and Cents: What Do School Districts Spend to Deliver Student-Centered Learning?, offers the first detailed look into how districts and schools deal with funding issues when they adopt the SCL approach.
SCL is an approach to learning that emphasizes authentic instruction, mastery-based assessment, and engaging students in real-life experiences that take their learning beyond the school walls and school day—all in an effort to connect students’ learning to their experiences, strengths, and interests.
Researchers from the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) and the School of Public Affairs and Administration at Rutgers-Newark, with support from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, examined district spending on SCL by comparing spending at seven SCL high schools in six states to six traditional high schools with similar characteristics. The researchers also performed a statistical analysis using New York City’s high schools, which included 79 SCL schools.
The study found that:
• Reallocating administrative and support resources and rethinking the use of teachers’ time enabled schools to add more teachers and/or instructional time and dramatically alter the school schedule while keeping total spending in check.
• Technology investments to personalize learning did not save resources when added on to a traditional staffing model.
• Providing students with internships and field-embedded learning opportunities often required new spending but also attracted substantial non-district resources to the school.
• Some SCL schools relied significantly on non-district resources, including donations of staff time from community partners and donations from philanthropic organizations to fully implement the SCL model.
• Loosening constraints that came from district resource allocation policies, union contracts, and other policies that dictate the use of time, staff, or money, while imposing fair but firm budgets, was essential for cost-effective implementation of SCL models.
• Traditional funding formulas that enforce similar resource structures across all schools regardless of their size result in higher per-student spending for small schools—and SCL schools are often small schools.
The report concludes with four policy recommendations:
1) Encourage SCL school leaders to think about tradeoffs. When schools begin investing heavily in one area, they should reduce spending in other areas to keep school budgets in balance.
2) Fund all schools in the district equally but also enforce strict adherence to budgets.
3) Provide schools with flexibility to deploy resources as they see fit while keeping budgets in balance.
4) Encourage and support principals’ efforts to secure resources from the community and publicly recognize those who succeed.
“This report provides a critical foundation for the delivery of student-centered learning,” said Nicholas Donohue, President and CEO of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. “We are dedicated to finding affordable and cost effective ways for districts, schools, and taxpayers to implement student-centered approaches, which is why we plan to build on this effort through continued support.”
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The authors will share findings and policy recommendations and answer questions about their research in a webinar on November 15, 9 a.m. PST / 12 p.m. EST. Charlie Toulmin, Director of Policy at the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, will introduce the event, entitled “Does It Cost More? What Districts Spend on Student-Centered Learning.” Register here; the webinar will later be posted online.