DOES MONEY MATTER?
Updated: Jul 21, 2018
Transforming Teaching and Schools through Resource Optimization in PK-12 Education is among my favorite courses. Maybe even my favorite. I am working with a cohort of education leaders who I’ve already worked with twice during their first year in the program. This is their last course. All but the dissertation remains for these doctoral students.
The theme for the course is a simple question: Does Money Matter? I ask the question on the first day and I’ll ask it on the last. Turns out it depends on how you measure it. Or maybe even your politics.
Writing for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, Michael J. Petrilli and Marguerite Roza argue that it doesn’t much matter. Jackson, Johnson, & Persico (2015) on the other hand, were very careful in their in-depth study to highlight that while money does matter, how it is spent is what really matters. As a superintendent who has not only studied this argument through an academic lens, but has also lived it, I agree with Jackson, Johnson, & Persico. Money only matters if it is spent wisely. If not, it doesn’t matter.
I am of the opinion that teachers would not be underpaid relative to other professionals if not for the waste in education spending. As a result of this waste, teachers have had to fight and be combative to get respect and compensation equal to the work they do. Most teachers I know well fully support ending last hired-first fired practices, removing class-size mandates, eliminating mandatory salary schedules, eliminating state mandates regarding work rules and terms of employment, removing “seat time” requirements, creating a rigorous teacher-evaluation system, pooling health-care benefits, tackling the fiscal viability of teacher pensions, moving toward weighted student funding, eliminating excess spending on small schools and small districts, allocating spending for learning-disabled students as a percent of population, etc…if they felt that they could trust the institution - and the children it was responsible to serve - that they committed their life’s work to supporting.
In addition to the academic research referenced above, we also study the anecdotal research of Johnathon Kozol, the author of Savage Inequalities, who has long proposed a Robin Hood approach with revenue "equitably distributed” to support students less likely to succeed given their birthright. His work is seen through the eyes and hearts of the innocents (children) and doesn’t necessary consider social science research or other academic lenses.
This course is designed to help education leaders ensure that the resources of time, money, staff and programs are allocated and managed to effectively and efficiently support the goals of improved classroom instruction and increased student achievement. Successfully completing this task requires organizations to engage in a diligent budget process characterized by a high degree of deliberation and collaboration between the district leadership team and the building leadership team. The LCAP is designed for this purpose since funding in this equity model is designed to follow the students. Does that happen? Questionable.
The district whose resources of time, money, staff and programs all work together to support the district’s goals to improve classroom instruction and student achievement is a successful district. It starts with governance and the commitment by the school board to actually set goals and align funding to meet those goals. As a practitioner I know this is not easy work. School leaders who are successful succeed despite the fact that the ability to do this work and govern at this level of work is rare. They focus on students and deflect the noise. They are the heroes.
Great school leaders identify their most pressing needs and subsequently align all available people, time and money to purposefully address them. School districts not so much. Why? Politics and personal agendas, most commonly. When a school district (starting with the governance team) empowers its site leaders to pursue their instructional vision even systematic and cultural barriers can be overcome.
Align resources to improve student achievement. You can find it at the intersection of courage and insight. There you will find that visions often become reality. Trust me on this...I've been around for awhile.