Saturday, August 05, 2017

Let's Talk Money in Schools

"We can't keep throwing money at the problem" is a familiar line you'll hear from conservatives and ed reformers alike when we talk about funding public schools.

(I'll digress here a moment and state that I do think Seattle Schools needs more money.  But they also need to spend their money more wisely and more transparently.  Charlie loves to say, "Go look at the district's budget - it's all there."  It's there in vague piecharts but do we really know where all the money goes AND where all the money is held?  We do not.)

I saved an article from the end of 2016 from The Upshot section of the NY Times, "It Turns Out Spending More Probably Does Improve Education."  From the "C'mon, this is news?", is this a big surprise.  I don't think so and, when we look at state spending, those states at the top of spending appear to have the best outcomes. (bold mine)
Educators, politicians and unions have battled in court over that crucial question for decades, most recently in a sweeping decision this fall in Connecticut, where a judge ordered the state to revamp nearly every facet of its education policies, from graduation requirements to special education, along with its school funding.
So what other factors come into play when we talk about spending?
Many other factors, including student poverty, parental education and the way schools are organized, contribute to educational results.
Getting more notice - and rightfully so from the POV of equity in funding - is the money that comes from parents.  We've discussed this here before and I plan on asking the Seattle Council PTSA if this will be one of their focus points for the next school year.  I think it should be and I believe the PTSA really could help with equity issues. 
But new, first-of-its-kind research suggests that conclusion is mistaken. Money really does matter in education, which could provide fresh momentum for more lawsuits and judgments like the Connecticut decision.

The study, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research in July, was conducted by the economists Julien Lafortune and Jesse Rothstein of the University of California at Berkeley and Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach of Northwestern. They examined student test scores in 26 states that have changed the way they fund schools since 1990, usually in response to a lawsuit like Connecticut’s, and compared them with those in 23 states that haven’t. While no two states did exactly the same thing, they all had the effect of increasing funding for the poorest districts.
The post-1990 time frame is important: That’s when courts changed how they think about states’ obligations to public schoolchildren. Previously, nearly all school funding lawsuits focused on the question of “equity” — did disadvantaged students receive funding equal to that of their well-off peers?
The problem with that perspective was the answer could be “yes,” even if funding was too low across the board. Starting with a 1990 court case in Kentucky, courts started asking about “adequacy” instead. Were school districts getting enough money, which might require giving extra money to districts that enroll many low-income, expensive-to-serve students?
So how is this research different besides the timeframe?
The researchers took advantage of the one test that is taken by a representative sample of schoolchildren nationwide: the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, which is administered by the Department of Education.

Although NAEP results are usually published only for whole states and a small number of large urban school districts, the researchers got the education department to let them analyze individual student scores. Those results include information on the test-taker’s race and income, as well as school district attended. The researchers could compare performance in poor and wealthy districts before and after changes in spending.
The outcome?
They found a consistent pattern: In the long run, over comparable time frames, states that send additional money to their lowest-income school districts see more academic improvement in those districts than states that don’t. The size of the effect was significant. The changes bought at least twice as much achievement per dollar as a well-known experiment that decreased class sizes in the early grades.
More money works better than lower class sizes?  Interesting.

More data to back up the first study:
Another paper, published this year in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, looked at the same question through a different lens. That study examined longer-term outcomes, like how long students stayed in school and how much they earned as adults, for students in districts with and without court-ordered funding changes. Here, too, researchers saw gains with more money spent.
And Betsy DeVos doesn't have a big role in shaping this spending:
Because 92 percent of all K-12 funding comes from state and local sources, the decision won’t be up to her. It will lie with state lawmakers who now have a better reason to invest more in school districts educating children who have the least money.
Seattle Schools does not seem to believe the Washington State Legislature has fulfilled McCleary as witnessed from their recent statement

From the Seattle Times:
"District officials also have bristled at the idea that everyone’s a winner in the McCleary plan. They argue lawmakers simply swapped local revenues for state spending, so districts won’t be getting as much net new money as the data suggests.
OSPI, in fact, estimated the loss of local revenue actually brings the Legislature’s total $7.3 billion price tag for public education to just $5.6 billion through 2021."
From the Washington Association of School Administrators head, Bill Keim:
​The most common response to the Legislature’s June 30th McCleary plan seems to be, “Mission Accomplished.” That’s certainly the consistent message from our political leaders. Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said as much this week when he filed a memo to the Court, asking for an end to McCleary. Wrote Ferguson, "it is time for this case to end."

So, as we learned with the Iraq war, “Mission Accomplished” depends on how you define the mission.
Hilariously, this is the headline at the right-wing thinktank, Washington Policy Center:

McCleary’s long-running, costly and controversial legal dispute is over

Still, Democrats, Republicans, the Governor and the Attorney General all recognize the McCleary process has run its course.  For good or ill, this long-running, costly and controversial legal dispute is over.  The legislature can now take education policy back from the courts and return to normal management and funding of public schools.

Mr. Keim seems prescient in saying this:
Regardless of the opinions expressed by our political leaders, the state Supreme Court will ultimately decide if the legislative plan meets the constitutional mission laid out in their January 2012 McCleary ruling and subsequent orders. 
What's up with the executive and legislative branches of government - both federal and state - thinking that the judicial branch is a pesky little brother to be brushed off.  Go tell that to the founding fathers.  


Anonymous said...

Really? I'm a parent of 3 SPS students and Democrat and I agree that we can't keep throwing money at SPS. Many of the parents I speak with about SPS share the same idea.

Public schools should not be about jobs for adults.

SPS Parent

Melissa Westbrook said...

SPS Parent, so you are saying they have enough money but are not spending it correctly?

Anonymous said...

I can't go to my boss every 9 months and ask for more money for my dept just because I think it will solve problems. I'm actually expected to cut 3-5% annually out of existing programs and those funds are used for new projects. If we don't cut we don't fund, it's that simple.

There's too much duplication of effort in public education and that's so true in SPS and even more obvious if you include other neighboring districts. Since Public Education is a state effort we should expect the districts to be stewards of our tax dollars by combining efforts and leveraging their combined resources to eliminate inefficiencies. Think of LA unified district, but without all the corruption.

JSCEE is currently a huge money suck, an endless legacy of failed initiatives or better yet, an endless legacy of false initiatives. SPS certainly doesn't need JSCEE because schools are more than capable of running independent from JSCEE.

Anyone who has be involved with SPS more than a few years knows it's not going to be possible to fix the situation with the same people in charge year after year.

SPS Parent

Anonymous said...

Right on SPS Parent. It may be true that spending gobs more on education creates higher test scores, but is that the obligation of the state? To beat out, with test scores, some other state that spends less? That seems like a losing battle if every state is doing this, and hardly believable that this is the standard for "ample"... eg. "Got better scores than a lower spending state." My student just finished SPS and it was a battle every single day. No, not because there wasn't funding - but because staff is sooooo unwilling to teach all students. Also because of constant central office interference. Great if you're the one of the lucky ones that SPS teachers have decided are worthy. But for so many kids, the system has decidedly given up. And when I read repeated posts that "we just can't expect SPS to make up for poverty or other disadvantages" it really makes you pause. Really? Then what is the point of public ed at all? Just to provide great education for kids that would get it anyway - and screw everyone else? (eg. stop trying). Seems like the blogger here have a huge case of ---

Mixed Messages

Anonymous said...

@ Mixed Messages,

As I see it, the point of public education is to ensure that everyone can be a thoughtful, informed, contributing member of society, capable of performing at (or at least close to) their potential. Public education should be designed to get everyone to a certain baseline or minimum standard, but that doesn't mean we also need to use that same baseline as the ceiling as well. If students have the capability of going beyond that, it's the responsibility of public education to promote that, too.

After all, if the goal were simply to get everyone to point x and no higher, then students should be able to proceed at their own pace and test out as soon as they reach that point. For some students, that might mean "finishing" high school in middle school or even elementary school. Does that sound better to you? At least those advanced students wouldn't be taking up resources you clearly don't think they deserve, and more effort could be focused on educating those who are challenged by poverty and/or disabilities. Of course, those who graduated early would still be moving forward--probably further widening the gap--so we'd have to find a way to slow them down, too. Not serving them probably wouldn't be enough--we'd need to actively get in the way.

that better?

Anonymous said...

Not really. Sounds like the same old same old. Make sure my kid gets the best. So sorry about the others. They're too impoverished to ever catch up. Look. Everyone wants a leg up by attaining their potential. The question is who pays for it? Who gets screwed? The point is, do we need to maximize students whose parents will already ensure that they get the best? Or at least something pretty good. The potentials we need to increas with public ed dollars, are are those potentials who have no other way. If that isn't the focus, the whole thing makes no sense, and ample funding is simply an unending pursuit.

Mixed Messages

Melissa Westbrook said...

SPS Parent, I hear your pain/frustration/anger. I share it.

As for an overhaul of how districts operate in this state, well, the new budget does include districts having to explain how they are using state funds. How clear that needs to be is unclear but it will mean more eyes on those budgets. I agree that JSCEE should be slimmed down and its focus is not really there.

Mixed Messages, getting good scores is not a game to win. I don't think states stay up at night really worrying about their ranking but yes, it is a reflection of what is happening. ESSA money can depend on them.

I have never said that public education can't do great things for many children. But if people think that all the issues that come to the door of public ed can be ignored and schools can do it (and without extra dollars for more supports), you're wrong. On a large scale, I don't believe it can be done.

"Make sure my kid gets the best. So sorry about the others. They're too impoverished to ever catch up."

Where did you ever read this comment at this blog? You may think you read between the lines somehow and this was what was said but that would be your interpretation, not fact. I will say that yes, many,many parents are most concerned about their own child and may not worry about the kid who sits next to theirs in class. However the level of support and action by SPS parents seems to belie that as a generally true statement.

Define "the best" in your comment. What is it you think some kids are getting from SPS that others are not?

I had thought I would not have to keep repeating but it is a state mandate and SPS' job to provide education to ALL children. You may think some children can be ignored but no, none of them can.

You don't get to define which children get served. That some - Sped and lower-income - aren't getting what they need is something to examine. And call out. Over and over. But until you can point to how some kids are getting "more" - in dollars - I'm not sure you have a real argument.

Anonymous said...

Mixed Messages, it sounds like your suggestion is "teach to the bottom" and "screw everyone else." Does that sum it up? I can't imagine that would be good for our state. I also wouldn't expect most parents to bother sending their kids.

You seem to assume students fall into two groups--poor/disadvantaged who are struggling and need extra support, or those whose parents will ensure they get "the best." I don't know exactly what you mean by the latter, but I can't believe that the overall sentiment is true. If the system only focuses on those performing below grade level, where exactly will parents of average or above average find this "best" education? They surely can't all go private. Do average students not deserve any consideration? Do above-average students not deserve any public education?

I agree we need to do a better job educating those who struggle the most, but abandoning efforts to effectively teach everyone else would be a very bad idea.


Anonymous said...

Ironically, Mixed Message describes our experience in HCC to a tee: "staff unwilling to teach", "central office interference" and I have the emails from Tolley and Box AND our recalcitrant principal to back this up.

It is imperative to ignore the message (from Mixed Message, Blanford and others) that we must pit groups of students against each other. My concern is that this attitude is being amplified by some principals and some teachers. It's garbage and it's criminal. It really is criminal and it will destroy the district.


Melissa Westbrook said...

HCCParent, and you hit upon a central theme I plan to write about when we look at the big picture of what the "vision" of this district is. I believe that HCC is being used as the boogeyman for everything that ails this district and a convenient smokescreen at that.

Anonymous said...

When I read the article, it doesn't seem to suggest throwing more money at SPS. It was very clear that sending more money to LOW INCOME schools was what raised test scores (vs say simply lowering class sizes or anything done at a state/district level).

The questions it raises for me is - how were those dollars spent, what amount seems to be the tipping point and what spending was more effective? Was the money spent on admin (likely not?), teacher salaries, technology, supplies, enrichment or wrap around services? How do we learn where those dollars can do the most good? My sister's kid goes to school in DC where they get wrap around care with recess and homework support for $85/mo, which includes dinner. There's also a robust summer school/camp program. That seems like funding that could go a long way towards helping stabilize low income families and potentially alleviate many of the effects of poverty which would likely lead to higher test scores.

We can talk about redistributing PTA funding, but realistically, even in the higher income schools, after stripping out the atypical language immersions, the PTA funding isn't really that much. Some supplies, some tutoring (possibly going to some of the lower income kids anyway since they are more likely to be "behind" test score wise), some enrichment. They aren't usually covering huge chunks of the school's budget. It's also likely a false benefit. If you redistribute those funds, even if donations do remain the same, do you really do anything to close the gap? I doubt it. I would guess that those parents will find work arounds to fund after school enrichment instead, either within the school, or by having their kids pursue those activities on their own.

NE Parent

NE Parent

Anonymous said...

Another proven method for improving the scores of Low Income students (which is what the article was about) is to stop having ghettoized schools with highly impacted students.

This has been proven many times to decrease the gap and can be done through option schools that use SES for tiebreakers and some gerrymandering.

Also, is it really necessary to always pile on someone who has a dissenting opinion?It is obvious that this blog favors those in power. But, c'mon people, don't be so obvious about it.

Time to delete and blame...

the messenger

Melissa Westbrook said...

When I read the article, it doesn't seem to suggest throwing more money at SPS. It was very clear that sending more money to LOW INCOME schools was what raised test scores (vs say simply lowering class sizes or anything done at a state/district level). "

That exactly how I read it and I agree. SPS doesn't need more money to pay consultants and new administrative positions. It needs to enhance supports directly into low-income schools.

The Messenger, I favor those in power? Since when?

But I agree that Option schools seem to do well and should be more widely known among low-income families. But I'd also caution that many families prefer their student in their closest school.

Anonymous said...

@mixed messages--- WOW you don't see the grey do you? Who are you talking about? Our family is first generation middle class & has also had large challenges including parental deaths etc. We do not send out child and cannot afford private school. We also care about all kids, not just ours! We also believe in equity for poor kids & allocating resources to help them more. But you don't think my kid deserves to have an appropriate public education, so they can also obtain middle class status? You think they will be "o.k" if ignored? That thinking helps destroy the middle class.

Teachers do not know the details of the backgrounds of all the kids they serve!! It is wrong to make assumptions. They need to teach all at their level, and that should be the purpose of public ed. Our country & state is hiring people from other countries to do jobs that require a higher level of skill as they cannot find the skill locally, ex computer science etc. Who you are likely not seeing in public are the truly affluent in private school.

Anonymous said...

@ the messenger, when people--even those "without power" here (?)--post statements that are intentionally insulting and fly in the face of reality (e.g., comments that parents of non-disadvantaged students have a "serve mine, screw everyone else" attitude), I don't think it's "piling on" to call them on it.

I welcome disagreement and different opinions, and think it's healthy to talk about them. It seems that Mixed Messages has a very emotional response to this issue, which bears further consideration and conversation as to how it may feel to those on one side of the issue. We are all biased to some extent, right?I love it when people speak up with a different perspective, but only if they are willing to engage in further discussion. I also think that people who do speak up with an alternate view are perfectly aware of the comments they may get, and they don't need to be "protected" from them. On the blog, respectful, logical commenters have equal "power" to make their case regardless of their viewpoint. Inflammatory statements, however, dont seem to be an effective way to yield that power.


Lynn said...

I'm following a discussion on Soup For Teachers about fundraising for K-5 library books trying to figure out the group's attitudes about PTA spending. It's apparently OK (not inequitable) for a PTA to pay for these books at individual schools - but I know they believe that a PTA paying for a counselor at their school is outrageously inequitable. What gives?

I would expect the group to demand that PTAs donate to other schools in order to buy for their own.

Anonymous said...

I do agree with many of the parents here that lowering the ceiling is not the best answer.

But I would like to suggest that when a parent suggests that his/her kids' needs are not being met by SPS we take a step back and respond "I am sorry you feel that way. How do you think we can help improve this.?" Perhaps we will not agree with every proposed solution, but we will learn something and maybe even find a way to help his/her kids.

Mixed Messages and others, what changes would you like to see?

-NW Mom

Anonymous said...

@GJ it is NOT true that US companies can't find skilled US IT workers. You need to investigate the situation and you will see the majority of IT workers are temporary workers that usually work for large IT outsourcing companies all own by India base firms.

These Indian based companies gamed the HIB visa program to staff large projects at fortune 500 companies.

Indian companies set up shop in American and then apply for H1B visas for their employees back in India. They then bid low on IT projects and staff them with their HIB visa workers which is illegal.

If these Indian based companies stay in a region for long enough they drive locals out of the market by driving down wages and controlling access to projects.

They are also now are using "Centers of excellence" which is a bunch of H1B visa workers living and working in something like a call center that is located in an inexpensive location. Local projects are outsourced to these center of excellence further displacing US workers.

The H1B visa program was NEVER intended for this purpose.


Anonymous said...

@ MJ, so you are suggesting that US tech workers are having trouble finding jobs, or good paying jobs? Not sure I'm buying that.

a skeptic

Anonymous said...

@MJ-- Regardless, our public schools are not preparing our kids for these high paying jobs. Especially in low socio schools in rural, small towns and even some cities across the country. Manufacturing jobs have gone away. What is going to happen in the areas when the service jobs the poor and working class are working are automated by robotics etc?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Manufacturing jobs have gone away."

No, they haven't. They are just different. See my thread on jobs.