Thursday, September 2, 2010

Student Based Budgeting: Another Wave of Reform

A BESE task force studying the possibility of implementing student-based budgeting is again diverting attention from the important issues in Louisiana education. The idea being sold to BESE by a libertarian group, The Reason Foundation of Los Angeles, is really designed to shift the funding for elementary and secondary schools directly to the school principals rather than to the central office bureaucracy. (Click here to see the Advocate story on this) The theory seems to be that if full authority for running education including setting budget priorities is given to each principal and if the principal is then held accountable for producing education results (such as higher test scores) our educational system will finally be successful! This is just the latest example of wave after wave of reforms in education that ignore the real problems in our schools. The following is a list of the latest reforms that are being implemented in Louisiana education, with very little scientific basis for improving education.

Charter schools to replace low performing schools. There are many more failures than successes among these, yet any charter school is apparently preferable to our State Dept. of Education to a school board run school.

College prep for all. This elitist theory of education reform is based on the idea that a more classical education with higher math, English, and foreign language courses will better prepare all students for 21st century jobs even if they do not attend 4 year colleges. The flaw in this theory is that students are different, and many are turned off by a college prep curriculum. Those are the very students who may have been more motivated by a curriculum that prepared them for high tech skills jobs. By the way, workforce authorities tell us that these skills jobs are more in demand than 4 year degree jobs and have less chance of being farmed out overseas.

Teacher and principal evaluations based on student performance. Cash strapped Louisiana is getting set to spend millions on a new bureaucracy based at the State Dept. that will attempt to link educator evaluations to student performance. Eventually the state will find out what local educators already know: Teachers and principals in low performing schools have the least control over the factors affecting student learning. This means that educators who are going to be trashed by this system are often the ones who needed the most support and incentives to work in difficult conditions.

The proposed student based funding is just another ill conceived fad in education reform. Experienced educators are already pointing out to the Commission, that principals are not trained and cannot afford to devote the staff and time it takes to develop site based budgeting. Just at a time when principals will be mandated to fully evaluate all teachers every year, they would be expected to take on a monumental restructuring of their budgeting system all without extra funding!

The primary goal of this new site based budgeting, to raise student test scores, can be addressed more directly by allowing central office based budgeting to target funding to the schools where students need extra help. Actually this is already being done. The one great benefit of our accountability system is that it is putting a bright spotlight on poor performing schools. You'd better believe it that local superintendents are already focusing major efforts on providing extra help to those schools if only to avoid the embarrassment of having a school labeled unacceptable. That's why a greater percentage of schools run by local school boards have improved their accountability status than have the state run Recovery District schools. By the way, many of these Recovery District schools are using a form of student-based budgeting and many administrators in those systems are complaining about the need for central purchasing and control!