Thursday, February 19, 2009

New Ideas in Education - Empty Promises in Reality

Here's how education works. Find a Great Idea that will solve all your problems. Don't bother to check if it actually works or not, just make sure it sounds good. Don't listen to or read anything that might be negative. Trust anecdotal evidence and ignore real evidence.

Spend lots of money to implement the plan. If things are perfect at first, squash the naysayer with "You need to be a team player" and "Everything takes time to work" and "Teachers don't understand how education works" and "We need to be professionals." It'll take some time to burn, but by then administration will change, the bureaucratic types will profess horror that it failed. You now have a new Great Leader who can go find a Great Idea to solve your problem ...

Here's how ...
In 2006, the Department of Education completely reorganized the budgetary process for New York City public schools. The new “Fair Student Funding [FSF]” budget process was based on the idea generally known in the educational world as “Weighted Student Funding [WSF].”
We'll cut some detail, but notice the cool acronyms. That's always a sign of a Great Idea. Make sure that you run any studies on the Great Idea yet because that would spoil the fun. Now, the veneer starts to peel off the Great Idea ...
Shortly after the DoE began FSF, the Seattle Public Schools, which had provided the original model for WSF, ended its experiment with the system. WSF was too complex and cumbersome a system for school level personnel to administer and it was not delivering the intended effects, the district concluded [pdf].
After this first sign of impending doom for the Great Idea, it's time for the research. Not the anecdotal crap you relied on at implementation ...
Now, an important study [pdf] just published by the Education Policy Analysis Archives does one of the first broad-based analysis of the actual effects of weighted student funding, comparing Ohio and Texas school districts which have adopted it with other school districts which still use more traditional methods of funding.
The findings? That despite widely publicized claims of success, the districts employing WSF provided “no more predictable funding with respect to student needs than other large urban districts in the same state” which did not use it. Further, “resource levels in urban core elementary schools [using WSF] are relatively insufficient for competing with schools in neighboring districts to achieve comparable outcomes.”
I forgot a key point in the beginning: don't forget that you need "widely publicized claims of success" for it to be a Great Idea. So we're almost there. We've reached the Obvious Question Stage in the lifespan of all Great Ideas.
So if the promise of WSF/FSF to direct funds to the schools serving students with the greatest needs is proving empty, exactly why should a school system keep it?
Because that is The Way of The Educrat.

Here endeth the lesson.

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