An Oldie But A Goodie?

In The Times Matt Miller resurrects an old idea – revenue sharing – with a new twist, tying big increases in the federal share of education spending to differentiated pay for teachers.  Matt’s onto something here – the heavy reliance on localized funding for schools is unfair to poor communities, more federal money should include some reciprocal obligations for states, and more money for human capital reforms is an important idea.   But, human capital reform likely can be leveraged for less than the sums Matt is discussing (pdf). 

Instead, with the kind of money Matt is talking about Washington could exert even more leverage with an eye toward increasing productivity although perhaps in less sexy ways.   For example, a serious effort to put the federal government on track to meet its financial obligations under the federal special education law – IDEA -could be coupled with requirements to curb the over-identification of students for special education.    Federal aid could be tightly linked to even more robust efforts around data systems than we’re seeing today, especially in laggard states.  Perhaps you could even try for the national standards moonshot via more interstate collaboration or some derivative of it around enhanced benchmarking and transparency around standards and assessments.  These ideas need not, and should not, lead to a nationalizing of the school system but could be done in the context state flexibility under an umbrella of national goals and priorities.

Less clear given the politics as well as the radically decentralized state of education finance today, is whether revenue-sharing along these lines would actually lead to a net-reduction in spending or productivity reforms or just, as they say, make the pie higher.  That’s why tying reciprocal requirements to federal dollars is especially important – to make sure that, regardless, they are buying something.

2 Replies to “An Oldie But A Goodie?”

  1. Matt Miller wrote:
    “States or districts that accept the money would have to allow higher pay for the best teachers or those in scarce specialties like math and science, defer or eliminate tenure (or link it to student achievement gains), and make it easier to fire bad teachers.”

    What exactly is his target? I he wants to get rid of bad teachers, then I agree let’s get rid of bad teachers. Killing tenure, however, would target effective and ineffective teachers. Do we want generations of students being taught by people who have lost the right to speak their mind(s)? Do we want an education system that guarantees that bad news or dissenting judgements aren’t communicated?

    It looks like Miller is going back to his special project data-driven accountability. (Although he doesn’t say so explicitly) Whether we are trying to transform the system or just get a stimulus package through, we need people to back off from their special projects. Let’s just say his political idea worked and we triple federal funding. And he get’s his educational way also and data-driven accountability is the foundation. What if data-driven accounting, which after all is a new, untested idea, proves to be a bad or a weak idea? Miller may refuse to address that question calling it “low expectations,” but that is the problem. He is so all-fired convinced he’s right.
    Then, check out your wording, where you advocate “rigorous evaluations, mentoring, induction, and differentiated compensation schemes.” You write that those ideas “hold the promise of significant change in student learning.” Then, you and Kamras advocate “informing tenure decisions with measures of how much teachers impact their students’ learning.” You didn’t say “base” it on data. Neither did you say what Kamras said at Aspen that data has to be the “overwhelming” factor with teachers where data can be made available. I sure don’t have a problem with that. (But, I’ve seen a lot of charts that show the fifty or eighty steps for firing teachers and they have been misleading I’d argue. Only a few of those steps are established by the Board and the union; the rest are due process that applies to everyone. This should be a canary in the mineshaft warning when we can’t find teachers and principals to replace the incompetents and when even the best principals can’t find the few hours to implement the process.)We need to work together on the few areas that we can change, including investments in principals so they have the time to conduct their relatively few observations with documentation. It would be easy to fire 8% or so of teachers a year, and the AFT is offering to help do it.
    The keyword is “leverage.” NCLB tried to leverage 10% of spending to produce far greater transformations. You think NCLB-type accountability can be reformed to leverage for improvement and I think it can’t. My concern is a generation of newcomers with 15 to 20 years experience at most who have the hubris to attempt the leveraging that Miller, Rhee, Klein and others seek. I can’t read them as anything other than technocrats.

    Especially when I read you and Kamras (and Geoff Canada), I see you guys as belonging in “our camp.” How would I define “our camp?” I don’t know for sure but it would include a respect for the democratic essence of education and a willingness to listen and compromise.

    PS, you mention IDEA funding. I keep asking this question because I don’t know the answer. Why would it not be simpler and just as effective (in comparison to more complicated WSF schemes) to just fully fund IDEA and make sure the money increase follows the student. In my school where students on IEPs are 1/3rd of the population, it would give us the resources to make a difference.

    Final PS. I ought to thank you guys for raising this issue. You guys have changed the subject from equality of funding to equity. I had always been told to remain silent on this issue because we’d quietly gotten the best deal we could in Oklahoma, and if it was widely known the Republicans would take that little extra away. In Oklahoma, that probably will happen anyway. But I can’t blame you guys for that.

  2. Actually, this is a great-sounding idea that is potentially very, very bad. Just look at California.

    After the court decisions in the 70’s/80’s that required the state to eliminate the funding differentials between rich and poor districts, the state legislature stepped in to fund most K12 education. This was great, because it led to more equitable funding.

    But – of course – legislators who now held the purse strings decided that they should have a big say in how the schools were run. And thus the Ed Code started to balloon, and local control was massively undermined. Plus, districts were then able to hold up the Ed Code as their excuse for not doing anything different or innovative.

    My guess is that the Kremlin had all sorts of well-intentioned strings attached when it distributed production dollars to factories across the Soviet Union.

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