Learning-oriented funding systems

I came across a very interesting report from the Center (sic) on Reinventing Public Education which was founded in 1993 at the University of Washington.

The 2008 report entitled Funding Student Learning: How to Align Education Resources with Student Learning Goals describes how it might be possible to redesign educational funding systems.  The introduction from the Chair of the working group Professor  Jacob Adams is worthy of analysis from a Scottish perspective..

“Education finance has emerged as one of the most salient public policy issues of the new century. In the early 2000s, for instance, and again in 2008, state and local officials faced tough budgetary choices brought on by a slowing economy and falling revenues.”  In Scotland we have only really been facing up to tough budget choices in the last three years but the challenges we now face are no different from those facing our counterparts in North America.

“Attention to education finance has extended beyond the halls of government as well. The National Research Council convened an expert panel to examine issues of funding equity and adequacy, and analysts developed new techniques to estimate the cost of achieving educational goals. Philanthropies and government funded large-scale studies of K-12 spending, while think tanks on the left and right released reports urging changes in the way states deliver resources to schools.” This has not been a key focus in Scotland despite the OECD Review.  Perhaps the new challenges faced by the public sector allied to static levels of educational attainment and no apparent correlation between increase in funding and improvements in outcomes will stimulate more attention on this area.

“In the press, new forms of teacher compensation and charter school funding routinely made national headlines. On Wall Street, Standard & Poor’s developed an online tool to correlate school spending with performance, as well as a consulting service to improve school district practices regarding pensions, energy, and other non-instructional costs. In short, resource issues in public education now span policy and practice, engage advocates and academics, and arise whether the topic is general support, school improvement, constitutional duty, or organizational efficiency.” But not in Scotland.

“The attention is well deserved. Americans spend more than $500 billion a year on elementary and secondary schools, making education the largest expenditure in most state budgets, and periodic assessment of education’s return on investment is a responsible undertaking. In this case, however, there is more to it. A careful look leads one to conclude that the nation’s attention to education finance is unsatisfying. For a quarter century, America’s schools have been searching for greater student learning and falling short.”  In session 2007-2008 Scotland spent £4.75 billion on pre-primary, primary and secondary education up from the 2002-2003 figure of £3.33 billion (a 33% increase) without any significant improvement in educational outcomes during that time.

“The sum of new finance-oriented legal theories, legislative actions, analytic perspectives, and management decisions has not closed the gap between the nation’s educational ambitions and student accomplishments. In fact, spending increases have outstripped achievement gains, and new funding programs have not propelled students over the performance bars set by states. It seems that the connection between resources and learning has been growing weaker, not stronger.” There does not appear to have been any positive connection between resources and learning in Scotland.

“A basic flaw in these improvement efforts is that they look to the education finance system for solutions when the system itself is the problem. As you will see in the pages that follow, state education finance systems were not designed with student learning in mind, nor have the superintendents and principals who manage educational resources been trained to make the strategic connection between resources and learning one would expect in a learning-oriented system.”  The Scottish funding system is not connected in any way with student learning in mind.  It is much more about defining a mechanism to ensure that money is apportioned in a transparent and efficient manner – but with no consideration to how that money will be used to improve learning – the system is based upon an assumption that resources will be used effectively.  No Scottish educational administrator such as myself or secondary headteacher has received specialised training to make a connection between funding and student learning.

“What’s more, because of the way these systems operate, elected officials, educational leaders, and the public are equally hard pressed to know how resources actually have been deployed or the ways they may (or may not) contribute to learning. The bottom line is that education finance needs to be redesigned to support student performance. To get there, a more fundamental analysis and approach to resource management is needed, one that steps back from incremental funding increases, new programs, and conventional practices to tackle the more basic question: How can resources support the nation’s ambitions for student learning?” I’d argue that it’s now time to do something similar in Scotland.


1 thought on “Learning-oriented funding systems

  1. Read this blog with great interest and agree in part with many of your comments. I can across an interesting news article that also supports your thoughts

    I think in some LA’s, with the finance that came through DtS, they have tried to monitor the use of money given to schools and asked the schools to account for their use of the money via annual reports, case studies, school plans etc. The problem is that the Concordant gives the power and choice to each LA in how they apportion spending and in what areas and takes control / monitoring away from the centre.
    Interesting to that CBI this week are suggesting that we do not need 32 LA’s and the present LA structure system needs to be looked at.

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