Jewish World Review April 29, 2004 / 8 Iyar, 5764

Joanne Jacobs

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Consumer Reports

How much is enough to spend on education? | How much is enough when it comes to funding better schools? According to studies done for school finance lawsuits, schools are radically underfunded. And opponents of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) claim implementing the law would require spending an additional $85 billion to $150 billion, an increase of 20 to 35 percent.

In the journal "Education Next", an article titled Exploring the Costs of Accountability explains how consultants decide how much funding is "adequate." The authors are James Peyser, who chairs the Massachusetts Board of Education, and Robert Costrell, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst currently working for the state government.


They conclude that the NCLB "spending gap" is more like $8 billion, centered in a few large states, and could be met by giving states more flexibility in spending federal funds.


What amazed me was their description of how experts decide what's "adequate" funding.


In the "professional judgment" model, educators are asked to imagine their ideal school, if money was no object. They need not prove their proposals -- small classes, lots of computers, etc. -- will raise student achievement. The money needed to fund the dream school becomes the measure of adequacy. Which surely is nuts.


Not surprisingly, a Massachusetts study using this model found every major district in the state was underfunded by an average of 66 percent, write Peyser and Costrell. The exception was low-performing, high-spending Cambridge.


In a New York funding equity lawsuit, the judge rejected the first "professional judgment" panel's study, which found New York City schools had enough money to provide the "opportunity of a sound basic education." Then the same consulting group, Management Analysis and Planning, was hired by the plaintiffs to do a second study. This time, the panel was restricted to "administrators, principals and teachers on the city's Department of Education payroll," with no outsiders, writes Sol Stern. "Their report concluded that the city schools needed yet another $3.7 billion per year." Mayor Michael Bloomberg is now demanding an extra $5 billion from the state for city schools.


The "successful schools" model is somewhat saner: Whatever is spent in the highest-performing schools is assumed to be the right amount. The average spending in these districts is redefined as the minimum needed.


But the model ignores a chicken-egg problem, write Peyser and Costrell. Educated, affluent parents tend to raise children who do better than average in school. They also tend to live in wealthier communities that have more property taxes to spend on schools. It's more likely the students' advantages -- not school spending levels -- that lead to high scores. "High-spending schools may be identified as 'successful,' not because they add more educational value, but because they enroll children from high-income families," Peyser and Costrell point out.


They suggest an adequacy model that looks at spending in districts that have demonstrated the greatest measurable improvement over several years. In their analysis, the average per-pupil spending in improving districts in Massachusetts is slightly lower than the statewide spending average.


That's not really a surprise. "Over the range of spending commonly observed among school systems in the United States, the effect on student achievement is often swamped by how wisely the money is spent, by bureaucratic and contract rigidities, and by a host of important policies and decisions that have nothing at all to do with money. The fact is that most research finds, after controlling for demographic factors, no consistent causal relationship between expenditures and achievement over the current range of spending levels."


In New York, which ranks at the top nationwide in school spending, the Commission for Education Reform recommended a 17 to 39 percent increase in spending to settle the funding equity suit. The commission relied on the School Evaluation Services unit of Standard & Poor's, which based its estimate on spending at "successful" schools, with extra money added to serve low-income, disabled and non-English-speaking students. The spending gap was estimated at $2.45 billion to $5.57 billion. Analysts warned that "there is no guarantee that the replication of higher spending . . . will replicate higher achievement . . . across the state."


Simply adding more money to a dysfunctional system produces higher-priced dysfunction.


The classic example is the District of Columbia school system, which ranks with the top states in spending and at the bottom in performance. D.C.'s public system spends about $11,000 per student. Yet, according to the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress, only seven percent of D.C. fourth graders are proficient or better in math, 10 percent in reading; 6 percent of eighth graders are proficient in math, 10 percent in reading. A majority of students test below the basic level in reading and math. Money doesn't buy literacy.

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JWR contributor Joanne Jacobs, a former Knight-Ridder columnist and San Jose Mercury News editorial writer, blogs daily at She is currently finishing a book, Start-Up High, about a San Jose charter school. Comment by clicking here.

04/26/04: Kids who can't compute; Nutter Butter nutsiness; schools without bullies; more
04/22/04: The false promise of universal pre-school
04/19/04: College craziness; diversity of the affluent; downgrading Princeton
04/11/04: Math instruction doesn't add up
04/05/04: Companies outsource for better workers, study says; nothing succeeds like failure; suspending everyone
04/01/04: Average pay gets average teachers; failing teachers; fake Master's
03/15/04: Translating Shakespeare, the Princess and the 'B'
03/08/04: School sued for saving lives; teachers protest students; saive oure skules; graduate yourself; jumping for Darwin
03/01/04: No Drugs? No problem; double standard; control
02/23/04: Over-Praised New Yorkers; Under-Educated Hawaiians; Mothers and Nannies
02/17/04: Under the skin; don't call them 'gifties'; a piece of sheepskin; parent participation — or else
02/09/04: The Limits of Discovery Learning; science lite; not just a buzzword; fish, unfried
02/02/04: Flight from excellence; the look that screams; show them the money
01/26/04: It's the Parents, Stupid
01/20/04: High School Blahs, Naked Math, Boys in Trouble
12/22/03: Saving the teacher, skipping a grade, paying for AP tests, laptops don't boost scores
12/15/03: Missing Columbine; tuned out; kindergarten kamikazes; Suffer the Little Children; ungot greats; dangerous rhymes
12/08/03: Desensitizing students to f-word; Like a Rock; Unmannered; Cool Christians on Campus
11/24/03: Integrating lunch; peewee athletes; The Promise
11/17/03: School Principals Gone Wild; School vs. Bloggers; A Is For Absent
11/10/03: Feeling history; no-sided history; passing on a record; winning respect; bright flight
11/03/03: Super Pay for Super Teachers?; ‘Failing’ Teachers; Dissect the Bunny; Yuck
10/27/03: Parent, teachers, parents as teachers; cramming in education; out of control
10/21/03: Go, Samaritan; 2 + 2 = ?; Majoring in Middle-class Status
10/14/03: To Gag a Mockingbird; saying 'hate' is hate speech; protest school
10/08/03: No Homework Overload; Self-centered Social Studies; The Boy Code; Codswallop; College 101: Don't Jump Out of Your Bunk Bed
09/29/03: Flunking mom; classroom classics; ritalin gag rule; lousy children
09/22/03: Order, disorder
09/08/03: No Child Left Behind: A Primer
08/29/03: The Decline and Fall of Social Studies
08/18/03: F is for valedictorian
08/14/03: Start-up success
08/11/03: Subliterate Superintendent
08/04/03: Alternative High School
07/28/03: Out of the System
07/21/03: Too Snobby for Shop
07/14/03: Be very afraid
07/09/03: Know-nothing nonsense
06/30/03: Affirmative action reactions
06/23/03: Overdressed Students, Underdressed Teachers, Dressed-down Exams
06/16/03: Paper 'Is-ness,' Excluding Awards, New Racial Consciousness and Politics
06/09/03: Racist math, red tape for charters, potty reading
06/02/03: Teacher Pay, Illiteracy , No Republicans Allowed
05/27/03: Research papers, athletics, reading
05/19/03: Soft America, plagiarism, Minutemen and Jets
05/12/03: Demographics, nerves, valedictorian, vouchers
05/05/03: Gender Bias, Banned Words, Helen of Troy
04/28/03: Tests, home-schooling, self-esteem
04/25/03: Lessons, American Pride, Iraqi Schools
04/14/03: Iraqi Textbooks and the English language
03/31/03:Teachers, hugging, text messaging
04/07/03: War talk at school
03/24/03: Watching the war
03/10/03: Classroom chaos
03/03/03: Teaching tales
02/24/03: Segregation stories
02/18/03: Writing Essays, America, Beyond Bert and Ernie
02/13/03: Size matters
02/10/03: Parental homework, cheaters and memoirs
02/03/03: Diplomas, academics, preschools and Ritalin
01/27/03: Head Start, Social Studies, Marx, Africa and Math
01/22/03: Teachers as targets
01/13/03: Big Bully's Feelings
01/06/03: School of 60's Whining and Communal Destruction
12/23/02: Teaching in
12/16/02: Chocolate city?
12/10/02: Mandatory Victimhood --- and when cleaning up a school is 'racist'
11/25/02: Multi-colored math, sensitive science
11/20/02: How to leave no child behind
11/18/02: The tummy track
11/11/02: Dysfunctional documents?
11/04/02: Why go to college? Why test schools?
10/28/02: Pride goeth before an F
10/21/02: Diversity adversity
10/14/02: Bad hat day
10/07/02: Inflated sense of worth
09/30/02: The Royal road to knowledge
09/24/02: Sierra's Club
09/20/02: Stupidity Watch
09/03/02: First, win the war
08/26/02: Out of their field, out of their minds?
08/20/02: Fun with failure

© 2003, Joanne Jacobs