In recent years, the standard approach to school funding has changed with elections of new officials around the country who are seeking to give money to schools based on performance. In the past, increases and decreases in school funding was tied to students, and was distributed to all schools. President Obama’s Race to the Top initiative was a shift, where states submitted applications that had to show evidence of creative programs as well as sign on to implement the common core standards. In Michigan, our Governor put forth a similar program last year. Rather than distributing funds to school districts in the traditional way, he called for districts to show evidence of meeting 4 of 5 “best practices.”
As the school budget for our state is debated in the capital this year, the Governor has issued a similar proposal. Rather than distribute the surplus in state education dollars ($120 million) on a per pupil basis, he is again proposing that schools meet five of the six “best practices,” including: participation in schools of choice, creating cyber school opportunities, maintaining a web “dashboard” where school information is available, dual enrollment options, advanced coursework, and monitoring student growth at least twice per year in every class.
My opinion (not burdened by inside information or data) is that federal and state funding will continue to follow this trend. Rather than giving money to schools, legislators will determine criteria that districts must meet to receive anything beyond a minimum amount of funding. While the ethics of this reality for our profession will be long debated, my purpose here is to talk about what we can do as a profession facing these circumstances.
There is a better set of best practices that schools could show as evidence of their hard work that would be more meaningful for students. If I were to get five minutes to talk with Governor Snyder or President Obama about the state education budget or Race to the Top, the best practices I’d urge them to focus on would be:
- Curriculum – An organized system of what will be taught, by grade level, determined by schools to focus on depth.
- Collaboration – An approach that will bring teachers together to work on instruction, assessment, and to plan for student growth. Teachers could document the work they do together.
- Collection and analysis of data – Our school has universal screeners, diagnostic exams, as well as hundreds of formative assessment points. Warehousing that data digitally and using it during the collaborative time teachers have is a strong professional practice.
- Opportunities for all learners – School schedules should reflect courses for students (including electives) that challenge and remediate. Within general courses, differentiation should create chances for all students to grow.
- Authentic Assessments – The inventor of multiple choice exams, Frederick J. Kelly, called multiple choice exams “a test of lower order thinking for the lower orders.” Students are producing high level work and can display it using digital and traditional portfolios. Teachers could collect similar artifacts and in the aggregate, schools could show how students are mastering the curriculum.
- Professional Development Plans – Teachers who are learning and growing get better results for their students. A school having a plan for embedded PD that pushes beyond the “one and done” efforts to sustained growth based on a focus (determined by school districts or buildings) could be easily documented and shared.
If we are going to focus on funding based on best practices, it is time for educators to come together and define what behaviors we can showcase that will meet the requirements our leaders are putting forth while also building a better profession.