The fifth anniversary of the massive Stanford-led studies of California public schools is upon us, and once again, the special interests are characterizing the report as focusing on a lack of resources. Unlike the reporters who are now writing about “Getting Down to Facts,” I actually read about a thousand pages of the reports. And as I wrote back in 2007, buried in all the multiple studies, here is the lead: A review of all California school districts shows “essentially no relationship between spending and student outcomes” and that spending more is futile until “extensive and systemic reforms” are in place. In other words, the problem is much more about the stupid way money is spent than the lack of money.
Here’s my March 25, 2007 take on the comprehensive review of state schools.
“Getting Down to Facts” – the massive new study of California’s public education system – amounts to a comprehensive repudiation of the argument that all we need to improve schools is a better-funded status quo.
But instead of acknowledging this, the interest groups, union officials and liberal pundits who have long defined school quality as a function of school spending insisted the study was in fact deeply sympathetic to their position.
Here’s what a “coalition of community-based and advocacy organizations – California ACORN, Californians for Justice, PICO California and Public Advocates” said: “[T]hese studies make it clear that California needs to make a substantial new investment in public education – in addition to system reform – to ensure all students meet expectations.”
No, that’s not what the studies make clear. They say unless huge reforms are in place, it’s pointless to spend more.
Next up on the spin front were the Sacramento Bee’s Peter Schrag and California Teachers Association President Barbara Kerr. Both slagged Arnold Schwarzenegger for saying the “studies show that no amount of money will improve our schools without needed education reform. We need to focus on critical school reform before any discussion about more resources.”
Schrag and Kerr sought to frame it as the governor’s conclusion – not the researchers’ – that reforms should come first, then funding.
Bunk. The study says a review of all California school districts shows “essentially no relationship between spending and student outcomes” and that spending more is futile until “extensive and systemic reforms” are in place.
Yes, “Getting Down to Facts” does say a case can be made for a big increase in spending to help underperforming schools and the millions of California kids, especially Latinos and African-Americans, who are poorly served by them. But it says reforms must come first.
Saying “Getting Down to Facts” calls for vast, unfocused new education spending is like saying “A Nation at Risk” – the landmark 1983 federal report that triggered the modern school reform movement – called for vast, unfocused new education spending.
Oh, wait. Now that I think about it, that’s exactly what defenders of the education status quo did back then, too.
I look forward to how Peter Schrag, the editorial pages of the state’s newspapers and, of course, the inestimable George Skelton get things wrong this time around.
Here’s a link to all the studies that comprised “Getting Down to Facts.” You can read them all, and you will never see a single sentence agreeing with the central premise of California education policy, which is that school quality is a function of school spending.
No, it’s not.