A report alleging the California public school FINANCIAL SYSTEM is broken is picked up far and wide, notably in the New York Times.
Some key points in the Summary Report I want to comment upon:
Voluntary contributions of money, and more importantly, time also add to variation in resources across districts. While monetary contributions to schools get substantial attention and are large in a small number of schools, on average they account for less than two percent of funds to schools for operating expenditures (Loeb, Grissom and Strunk, 2007/GDTF). Brunner and Imazeki (2004) find that monetary contributions averaged less than $40 per pupil in 2001. On the other hand, voluntary contributions of time appear to be substantial... Principals in higher income communities reported substantially more frequent use of volunteers to provide clerical work, adult supervision at morning arrival or playground duty, tutoring, and help running sports activities than did principals in poorer communities. ... Overall the difference in
volunteer time between low-income and high-income schools appears to be a greater source of resource disparity than are contributed dollars. (Emphasis theirs.)
In a previous post, I mentioned that one of the biggest problems with private schooling of the elite is that the volunteer hours go elsewhere, and recommended that if we look at social and financial capital (and intellectual capital) as separate contributions into the district, an arrangement can be better effected where opting out of the district requires some sort of community participation or financial support in lieu of the proposal where community funds are somehow apportioned to an individual child and shipped into the private sector. (Presumably community social support might be financially remunerated, which would give a voucher effect without losing the more motivated members of a school district.)
There's a lot there to digest (and I haven't gotten to the supporting -- original -- papers; this is just the synopsis), but two other areas of note:
(1) Stastics show that there's basically no correlation between API and school funding -- where Title I schools in heterogeneous districts with average revenue per pupil might be seen as well-funded, for example -- but there IS correlation between API and percent school lunch %, which is a measure of community poverty. Though the authors don't seem to connect the dots, one might question whether that's a reflection of the financial value of volunteerism; an entirely poor district might not have any access to volunteers whereas a predominantly middle class district might take care of the poorer area through local education foundations and other district-wide volunteer mechanisms.
(2) Rather than rely on statistics, the researchers made use of "insider information" by asking current teachers and administrators changes they would make:
In comparison to current allocations, the panels that were asked to create an effective school thought that added resources to reduce class sizes, to extend the instructional day and year for all students, to hire specialists to work with small groups of students, and to foster professional development opportunities for teachers would be effective (Chambers, Levin, and DeLancey, 2007/GDTF). The panels also added resources for early education and extended day and year programs specifically for schools with high proportions of students in poverty or with high numbers of English learners. The panels emphasized that student achievement wasn’t as dependent on the number of personnel at the school level as on how their roles and time were allocated.
The California survey estimates derive from budget simulations conducted with 567 randomly selected public school teachers, principals, and superintendents. The survey instruments describe a hypothetical school—the characteristics of its students, the cost of its resources, and its total budget. Participants then select the quantities of each resource that would maximize the academic achievement of the school’s students. Respondents were not given the option of raising or lowering the wages or benefit levels of personnel. On average, when budgets increased by 50 percent in elementary schools, respondents reduced class size by 15 percent and increased administrative staff by 27 percent. They made larger changes in support staff (increasing by 300 percent), instructional coaches (from 0.2 to 1.4 FTE), time teachers work together (increasing by 44 percent), and instructional time (increased summer school participation, longer school days and longer school years).
I could quibble at length about the wisdom of using "in poverty" as an indicator for "in need" in terms of effective problem-solving; one of the points of this overview is that educators have much lower expectations for children in poverty. Well, obviously, it's not the money that's the difference, it's the quality of the community. The quality of the community is *proxied* by money, but of course there are very closely knit yet poor communities, and there's quite a bit of hubris involved in assuming poor people have less capacity for cohesive communities.
I also didn't see explicitly covered -- I may have missed it, and this is an overview paper -- the bizarre relationship between schools and disease vectors. Schools lose funding when children are home sick. It's the very definition of a perverse incentive.
Also notably absent: any reference to the 2006 (2005?) AERA winning paper on how social networks functionally limit the choices parents make for schools for their children, even among parents who are sophisticated in making this type of choice.
It will be interesting to see how this research is spun. There doesn't seem to be anything particularly surprising, just more validation of what the thought leaders have been saying for a while.