The argument from some so-called school reformers is that money isn’t really the issue.
“They say that public spending on education has risen dramatically in recent decades, but the United States has still fallen behind other countries on international assessments,” says Valerie Strauss in an article in The Washington Post.
At the root of this discussion — whether an honest debate or a political attack — is the question: How much is enough or how much should we spend resources to make sure every child has the opportunity to succeed? If we answer this question, the debate should be over. Right?
It won’t be, but we know answering the question is still important. Here’s the way I look at it — educators (teachers, administrators, board members, etc.) need to be accountable for teaching, children need to be accountable for trying as hard as they can to learn, and parents need to be accountable for feeding their kids, reading to them, taking care of them and getting them to school on time.
In this accountability equation, we too often forget society as represented by elected officials. Their job is to make sure every child in Wisconsin has opportunities to learn in school and to succeed in life. For example, every child should have an effective teacher in front of the classroom, as well as everything that entails, including lower class sizes, well-educated staff and programs and services to offset the scourge of poverty.
Other opportunities would be quality, universally available early-childhood education, challenging curriculum for all children, equitably distributed resources (such as technology, textbooks and extra-curricular activities), and extended learning options where needed.
A new study by the Shanker Institute answers the question of whether or not money matters with a resounding yes. It’s not about throwing money at a problem, but rather about providing the right amount of resources so that children have the opportunity to succeed.
“Revisiting the Age-Old question: Does Money Matter in Education ,” was written by Rutgers University Professor Bruce Baker. His take on the question gets right to the point. In a review of the research, Baker finds, despite the popular political rhetoric, that “in direct tests of the relationship between financial resources and student outcomes, money matters.”
School resources that really make a difference, including class size reduction and getting and keeping quality teachers, are “positively associated with student outcomes” and, on the whole, “the things that cost money benefit students, and there is scarce evidence there are more cost-effective measures.”
Can we use money in our public schools more effectively? Maybe, and we should always be looking for ways to do that. Money, however, does matter, and “arguments that across-the-board budget cuts will not hurt outcomes are completely unfounded,” according to Baker.
What we need to do, then, is work for reforms here in Wisconsin that will result in a school-funding system that gives schools the fiscal resources they need to make sure all kids have those opportunities.
If it is really all about our kids and their education, the question should be: What are the right number of resources for our schools? Bakers’ research and that of others through the years (including the Institute for Wisconsin’s Future) gives us great insight into the answer.
Now all we have to do is build the political will in communities throughout Wisconsin to demand our elected officials actually have conversations like this — about real problems and real solutions.