Opinion
Education Funding Letter to the Editor

School Finance Remedies Must Also Include Reform

August 11, 2009 2 min read

To the Editor:

Michael A. Rebell and Bruce D. Baker’s online Commentary “Assessing ‘Success’ in School Finance Litigations” (July 8, 2009) grasps at straws to justify unsuccessful court interventions of the past.

Our book, Schoolhouses, Courthouses, and Statehouses: Solving the Funding-Achievement Puzzle in America’s Public Schools, shows imperceptible differences in student-performance trends in states with large court-ordered funding increases to achieve “adequacy” (Kentucky, New Jersey, and Wyoming) compared to the nation as a whole over the 1992-2007 period. Only when there were also substantial policy changes beyond funding (Massachusetts) were there significant gains.

Using different time periods for their analysis, Messrs. Rebell and Baker dispute our findings. Their principal point is that, using available test scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress and a starting date of 1996 (math) or 1998 (reading), 12 of 13 test-score increases for all students and nine of 13 increases for economically disadvantaged students in Kentucky, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Wyoming were higher than the increases nationally.

Using data on the NAEP Web site for their selected time periods, however, we find that only 10 of 13 increases for all students and eight of 13 increases for free-lunch students actually beat the national average. In other words, slightly more than half the observations for economically disadvantaged kids are favorable, a result close to chance.

But this is only part of the story. Messrs. Rebell and Baker fail to mention that these “favorable” results are dominated by Massachusetts, confirming one of the important conclusions made in our book about the need for basic reforms. They also ignore the fact that just three of eight available comparisons for black students are favorable.

Perhaps most important, the court remedies in Kentucky, New Jersey, and Wyoming resulted in average gains for all students relative to the nation of less than 0.05 standard deviations, a rather minor improvement given the billions of dollars spent. To put this in context, an increase of this size would move somebody at the middle of the national distribution from the 50th to the 52nd percentile. When the test scores of the principal targets of court remedies—poor and minority students—are considered, even these small effects disappear.

In short, as amplified in our book, court-mandated funding has induced dramatic spending increases in a number of states with little to show in the way of improved student outcomes. Only when the remedies include fundamental reform, such as occurred in Massachusetts, do we see signs of success.

Eric A. Hanushek

Senior Fellow

Hoover Institution

Stanford University

Stanford, Calif.

Alfred A. Lindseth

Of Counsel

Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP

Atlanta, Ga.

A version of this article appeared in the August 12, 2009 edition of Education Week as School Finance Remedies Must Also Include Reform

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Addressing Learning Loss: What Schools Need to Accelerate Reading Instruction in K-3
When K-3 students return to classrooms this fall, there will be huge gaps in foundational reading skills. Does your school or district need a plan to address learning loss and accelerate student growth? In this
Content provided by PDX Reading
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Culturally Relevant Pedagogy to Advance Educational Equity
Schools are welcoming students back into buildings for full-time in-person instruction in a few short weeks and now is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and systems to build
Content provided by PowerMyLearning
Classroom Technology Webinar Making Big Technology Decisions: Advice for District Leaders, Principals, and Teachers
Educators at all levels make decisions that can have a huge impact on students. That’s especially true when it comes to the use of technology, which was activated like never before to help students learn

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Funding House Democrats Pitch 'Massive Funding Increase' in Latest Education Spending Bill
The proposal would more than double aid to Title I programs for low-income students and aims to help schools address fallout from COVID-19.
4 min read
Drawing of money dropping into a jar.
iStock/Getty
Education Funding Feds Set Limits on Which Private Schools Can Get COVID-19 Relief
The Education Department's rules deal with $2.75 billion in American Rescue Plan aid set aside for private schools.
3 min read
Image of money.
TARIK KIZILKAYA/iStock/Getty
Education Funding Feds OK First State Plans for Remaining Share of $122 Billion in K-12 Virus Aid
As it approved states' relief plans, the Education Department separately opened applications for $600 million in homeless-student aid.
5 min read
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, center, enters teacher Meghan Horleman's, right, classroom during a visit to the Olney Elementary School Annex in Philadelphia on April 6, 2021.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona enters the classroom of teacher Meghan Horleman during a visit to the Olney Elementary School Annex in Philadelphia on April 6.
Tim Tai/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP
Education Funding Feds Seek to Promote Equity, COVID-19 Recovery, and 'Systemic Change' Through Grants
The Education Department's six new proposed funding priorities would affect competitive grants.
3 min read
Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, right, talks to students at White Plains High School in White Plains, N.Y. on April 22, 2021.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona talks to high school students in White Plains, N.Y., in April.
Mark Lennihan/AP