What is the right amount of money for a community to spend per student? How does one judge this? A number of studies [one, two, three, four] I looked at today that show contradictory information. Some say that the more you spend, the better the scores are, others say there is no correlation at all.
What's the right answer?
I wonder if we're asking the right question. Is it about the amount or is it about the composition of the investment and the mandate of those managing it? My gut says it's about the latter. My gut also says it's really about how we measure success and where accountability lies.
Today the decision-making rests in the hands of school districts, state and local politicians, heads of schools, and maybe parent-teacher organizations. The federal government also has a hand in this of course.
- Who defines success?
- Who judges whether success was achieved?
- Who faces consequences of failure or gets credit for success?
Hmm... I'm not sure the answer to any of these questions is clear is it? Here are three more questions:
- Who is the customer?
- Who is the provider?
- What mechanism is there for the customer to assert their market rights?
Perhaps the answers to these are more clear? Or are they? Is the customer the student, the taxpayer, or the federal government (who funds much of this on our behalf)? Is the provider the head of school, the school, the district, the teachers' union? Is there actually a clear flow of funds through which to assert market rights? Not clear, not clear, and no.
Going back to the first set of questions, you could say that all of society defines success, but this isn't practical, so it falls on legislators, but they'll come up with unfortunate programs like No Child Left Behind. Who judges success? Unclear. Who feels the consequences? Well that's interesting, as in the corporate world, it all flows downhill, so the lowest people on the ladder (teachers) feel the brunt of the pain; of course the students also feel it.
What to do? As with everything else, it's easier to find fault than fix things. From my experience in the corporate world, it almost always boils down to having one leader who has vision, strength, experience, but no ego. If this person is found, they will have the capacity to do what's hard (take a stand with conviction), and push for outcomes based on the best advice available.
I wonder if we have it in us?