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Saturday, March 01, 2008

How We Fund Education

I thought this was a good op-ed; it appeared in today's PI. It was written by Paul Hill, the director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington and Shelley De Wys, research coordinator for the center's School Finance Redesign Project.

Their premise is that funding comes with too many barriers and strings attached for the kind of teaching we say we want today.

This is aptly described by one administrator:

"One district official described the state's school finance system this way: "We live in two worlds. We're funded in a system that's time-based, that's student-count based, that's seat-time based. All of those things are the old system. It collides with high expectations for all kids, which requires a different service model, a different way of funding."

What are the challenges?

  • "While other state and federal programs address some of these needs, many districts are forced to rely on uncertain year-to-year grants and philanthropic funding to provide extra learning supports."
  • "State policies limiting teacher salaries impose another straitjacket. To meet WASL performance demands, district leaders would like to use state funds to attract high-quality candidates, reward top teachers who agree to work in low-performing or high-poverty schools, pay more for teachers skilled in hard-to-staff subjects such as science and math or reward teachers who improve student performance."
  • "When the state committed to standards-based accountability in 1993, it also promised big cuts in regulation. That didn't happen. As one state official told us, "The system has changed because of accountability. We've hung on to all the (Washington Administrative Codes) and still keep adding new dictates all the time." Another said, "Washington has more rules than any other state I know of."
  • "Teachers' union contracts also constrain how local resources get used in ways that at times obstruct efforts to improve student performance. While endorsing contract conditions that ensure fair treatment of teachers, educators also told us that contracts prevent them from taking steps they believe necessary to improve performance, such as lengthening class periods and school days and years, keeping students with the same teacher for multiple years and trading larger class sizes in non-core subjects for smaller classes in core subjects."
One quote stood out to me:

As one educator described this, "Common sense to me would say if we really were to prioritize our academic plan ... and say, 'We want all of our kids to learn how to read. We want all of our kids to have certain math skills ...' That's where we ought to be putting our resources.

"It's easy to predict that that would mean there are things we do now that would have to fall off the plate," he continued. "And we'd have to have the political will to say, 'We can't do that anymore.' And (there) undoubtedly would be things ... like music or athletics, the sacred cows of the American school culture."

Those are fighting words but I'm not sure if the speaker meant PE or athletics (which is the real sacred cow of high school/college/university).

This statement seems to sum it up:

"Currently, student needs too often take the backseat because dollars are used in a complicated, opaque, inefficient and nonstrategic manner. This must change."

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