Thursday, February 7, 2013

Effective Educational Spending: Getting a Good Bang for Our Bucks

by William J. Mathis, (802) 383-0058,

URL for this press release:

BOULDER, CO (February 7, 2013) – Spending money wisely and effectively is a perennial and paramount concern for educational policy-makers at all levels. While resources—financial and otherwise—are necessary, spending alone is not sufficient: “An expensive but ill-considered policy can prove wasteful or even counter-productive,” Dr. William Mathis, managing director of the National Education Policy Center writes in this sixth in a series of short research summary papers explaining current relevant findings in education policy.

“The public debate has shifted from does money matter to where money matters.” The answer begins with perhaps the most obvious needs: clean, adequate schools and learning supplies, qualified staff, and a “well-organized climate,” although, as Mathis notes, some of these necessities “are not as easy to measure.”

Fortunately, there is a general consensus on policy initiatives “where increased funding will likely lead to improved outcomes.” The list he offers, although not exhaustive, rests on a body of sound research for the efficacy of each:

Ameliorating negative effects of concentrated poverty;
Providing high-quality early education;
Engaging families continuously, including providing family, social and medical services;
Providing enriched learning opportunities after school and over the summer;
Providing high-quality full-day kindergarten;
Reducing class size, particularly for grades k-3;
Providing high-quality teachers; and
Providing increased funding and program support for economically disadvantaged children and English language learners.

Mathis also observes that while standardized test scores are the most commonly used metric for measuring educational quality, they will “systematically underestimate the effects of proper school funding.” One reason for this is that test scores don’t measure a broad range of educational goals, such as equality and safety. A number of programs, from meal programs for impoverished students to aides for students requiring special education, may not raise key scores; some, such as dropout prevention, will almost certainly lower average scores for a school or district.

More than 70 major adequacy studies over the past 20 years show that anywhere from 40 to 100 percent more money per student is required to teach children from poor and lower-income households than is required to teach their more affluent classmates. However, the nation as a whole actually spends less on teaching disadvantaged students—by one estimate $1,300 less per pupil.

Adequate, equitable funding, Mathis concludes, is more than just a legal requirement in most states: “it is the foundation for any policy hoping to achieve equitable outcomes.”

This short research summary paper is part of Research-Based Options for Education Policymaking, a multipart brief that takes up a number of important policy issues and identifies policies supported by research. Each section focuses on a different issue, and its recommendations to policymakers are based on the latest scholarship.

The brief is made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

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