The air is thick with talk of education reform. States are tapping new revenue sources to reduce reliance on local property taxes. They are also trying to ensure that every school is adequately funded while grappling with inadequate revenue overall. And school districts wonder how best to spend that money, and which of the many education reforms being pushed actually work.
A panel of scholars and educators touched on all of these issues in a discussion March 4 in Houston Hall. “Paying for Public Education: Resources, Use and Equity” was the inaugural Weiss Colloquium in Education Policy sponsored by the Graduate School of Education.
Peg Goertz, professor of education and co-director of the Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE), opened the forum by noting the great variance in funding among states and among districts within states. Pennsylvania schools, she said, are far more dependent on local funding and get less state revenue than schools in other Northeast states or the nation as a whole.
Within the Philadelphia region, she added, the city school district has less money to spend per pupil than any other district—less than half of what the wealthiest district in the region spends. State aid tries to compensate for these differences, but the emphasis is now on ensuring adequacy rather than equity in funding.
This shift leads to another question: What really works to help students meet higher performance standards? Alan Odden, CPRE co-director and professor of educational administration at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, suggested shifting more teachers to basic instruction in order to reduce class size. One place he suggested the money for this could be found was in the central district office. “We found $4000 to $5000 per kid in the central office in Chicago,” he said.
Kent McGuire, senior vice president of Manpower Development Research Corporation, was more cautious, saying, “It is not immediately obvious what to do [to improve performance].” While suggesting that some of the techniques being advocated amounted to reinventing the wheel, he said that good, controlled experiments would help everyone determine which strategies actually produce results.
Originally published on March 20, 2003