More Money Is Not Answer to Improving Schools, Report Says
Giving more money to schools is the wrong way to improve student learning, a report by a panel of economists and educators released here last week argues.
Instead, it says, schools should take a more economy-minded approach--one that is aimed at using resources more efficiently, rigorously evaluating reform programs, and providing incentives for schools and students to excel.
"We're saying, when you think about reform, you should think about it in a budget-neutral sense," said Eric A. Hanushek, the University of Rochester economics and public-policy professor who led the panel.
Mr. Hanushek is known for studies suggesting there is no systematic link between increasing resources for schools and higher student achievement. His findings have been championed by some leading conservative critics of schools, such as former Secretary of Education William J. Bennett.
But the panel Mr. Hanushek led in producing the new report represents a broad array of opinion. Its economists include those with liberal as well as conservative reputations. It also includes educators such as Henry A. Levin, the Stanford University professor whose "accelerated schools" approach calls for speeding up, rather than slowing down, lessons for low-achieving students, and Richard J. Murnane, a Harvard University professor who specializes in studying teacher labor markets.
The 195-page report, Making Schools Work: Improving Performance and Controlling Costs, was unveiled last week by the Brookings Institution, the Washington-based think tank that is publishing it. The panel of authors began meeting five years ago, with funding from the Pew Charitable Trusts, to examine why school reforms had fallen short.
In their report, the scholars contend that per-student spending on education has been growing unabated for most of this century.
Early on, that spending was accompanied by big increases in the number of years of schooling Americans attained. But that growth leveled off in the 1960's, and, since then, attention has turned from the quantity to the quality of schooling.
By that light, the authors argue, the American education system has proved to be unproductive.
On a number of assessments, they point out, the scores of American students have, at worst, slipped and, at best, improved only slightly. They also note that U.S. students generally stack up poorly against those from other industrialized nations on international assessments of mathematics and science.
Part of the problem, the panelists say, is that a large proportion of education's resources have gone to reducing class sizes and increasing the number of teachers with advanced degrees--strategies that have proved largely inefficient.
"Dropping a class from 25 to 22 students increases classroom expenditures by more than 10 percent," the report says. "But the evidence suggests that many teachers either do not react to such decreases or do not change what goes on in the classroom to capitalize effectively on the smaller class."
The same is true, it suggests, of other school-reform efforts.
The authors say school reformers need to pay more attention to conducting evaluations of reforms and looking at the "value added" by the new programs they try.
The group also called for more experimentation with performance-based incentives, such as two-tiered contracts for teachers that would enable some to continue to be paid through traditional means while rewarding others on the basis of how well they perform.
Chester E. Finn Jr., the Education Department's research chief under Mr. Bennett, said the report points up "the fecklessness of the classic approach to school reform."
'Not Throwing Money'
The report will likely meet with skepticism, however, from researchers and educators who disagree with some of its premises.
Last spring, a study published in Educational Researcher disputed Mr. Hanushek's work questioning the relationship between spending and achievement. (See Education Week, March 23, 1994.)
"The inference is we've been throwing money at schools, which I disagree with vehemently," said Keith Geiger, the president of the National Education Association. "Any 1st- or 2nd-grade teacher knows if you have 35 kids you're not going to be able to do as good a job as you can with 15."
But he agreed that schools should take more of a lesson from past reforms and experiment with new ways of paying teachers.
Other researchers say closer analyses of assessment data show U.S. schools are not as unproductive as the report portrays them.
Allan R. Odden, who co-directs the Finance Center of the Consortium for Policy Research in Education, a group of universities involved in policy analysis, said such criticisms could blunt the report's most important message. "Which is," he said, "that we've got an efficiency problem."
Copies of the report are available for $34.95 each (clothbound) or $14.95 (paperback) from Brookings Books, 1775 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036-2188; (800) 275-1447 or (202) 797-6258.