Thursday, May 02, 2013

Does Spending Improve Schools?

The Brits say no--but I don't want more than the 30+ students I already have per class....
“There is no correlation at all between the level of per-pupil funding and educational outcomes,” concludes a Deloitte analysis of British schools, reports The Telegraph. The Department of Education had commissioned the study to provide support  for a “pupil premium” — extra funding — for disadvantaged students.
The report confirms what’s obvious to parents, editorializes The Telegraph: “Ethos is what matters most – and you can’t buy a good ethos. Head teachers who turn around a school are utterly priceless, in every way.”
We’d say “culture” instead of  ”ethos” and “principal” for “head teacher.”


maxutils said...

Right. It's class size, home environment, and a quality teacher. Two of those are fundable ... the rest of the budget goes to overhead and administration. You start at the classroom level, then use whatever else you have to fund the infrastructure. But ... that isn't how it works here. It's completely backwards. After we fund the committee to reassess the mission statements of blue-ribbon wasc schools, THEN we start thinking about hiring teachers.

allen (in Michigan) said...

Not that I've got a citation but I'm pretty sure this is old news. I remember reading quite a long time ago - like decades ago - that the connection between funding and performance was tenuous at best with a significant likelihood that it was non-existent. Maybe this'll study will help cement the lack of a relationship.

Anonymous said...

MaxUtils: " It's class size, home environment, and a quality teacher."

By "it's", I assume you mean "educational outcomes."

You've left out the biggest factor.

The quality of the students (smart, hard working, pays attention, follows instructions, doesn't disrupt the class vs. the opposite) is almost certainly more important than the three things you've cited.

Consider a thought experiment: For each of these three things your choice is (a) Top 10% in that and bottom 10% of students, or (b) Bottom 10% of that thing and top 10% of students.

So ... you can have either a full classroom full of top 10% students *or* a less full classroom with bottom 10% students. Which do you expect to have the better "educational outcomes?"

I know what I'd pick.

What sucks is that we don't *REALLY* want to be able to predict which schools will have the most successful students. We already know how to do this! What we want to know is what effective knobs do we have to tweak to make the students we have more successful.

You have listed three (two of which are something that the school system might have some control over), but I believe that those are swamped by "quality of students."

No reason not to do the best we can with what we have, but the effect is going to be small ...

-Mark Roulo

Mike43 said...

Interesting that their term for principal is head teacher. A different mindset, to be sure.

It implies that the function of the head manager is teaching.

And that's a far cry from what is expected of principals in the US.

allen (in Michigan) said...

It just occurred to me that Dr. James Tooley's "The Beautiful Tree" is built on proof that public education, regardless of the country, is wildly over-funded.

He's spent a good chunk of his career investigating the private schools of some of the poorest people on earth, and while their funding level isn't really practical for the more developed nations, they do provide a standard of reference as to how little funding is necessary.

It's a testament to both America's wealth and the power of the political system to squander that wealth that the American public education system is as wildly over-funded as it is.

maxutils said...

Mark ... I don't disagree with you. But I would argue in the vast majority of cases, a good home environment (which I would classify as stable, with parents who value education, and do things like read to their kids before bedtime, and make sure homework gets done) produces that type of student. They usually aren't born that way.

Anonymous said...

MaxUtils: " But I would argue in the vast majority of cases, a good home environment produces that type of student."

I think we are agreeing :-)

But since schools can't force parents to stay married to each other, value education, read to their kids, etc. we still have a (sad) situation where the knobs we can turn have small effects relative to the big knobs that we can't turn (*).

What to do? I dunno. "Turn the knobs that we *CAN* turn and accept that the effect will be smaller than we'd like" seems the best we can do. So I'd say that we should do it, but not be overly optimistic about the results.

-Mark Roulo

(*) For what it's worth, I believe:
(a) Home environment as you describe it, IS important, and
(b) Genetics are important, too, but
(c) 'a' and 'b' are also correlated (smart parents tend to pass some of their smart genes on to their kids and they also aim for a 'good' home environment) so that the kids with the good home environment also on average tend have better than average genetic smarts.

In many respects this makes the spread *larger* than one would expect if (a) and (b) were independent...

allen (in Michigan) said...

Of course that metaphor implicitly assumes we can't just grab the appliance those knobs are part of and chuck the entire, misbegotten, thing out a window a newer, better and cheaper appliance upon which the knobs do have a worthwhile effect.

maxutils said...

Mark ... also true. But I would take a student of below average intelligence whose parents cared over a smart kid whose parents didn't ANY day.