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Paul Hill Report

Paul Hill Report

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Published by Kimberly Reeves
Efficiency report for school finance trial.
Efficiency report for school finance trial.

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Published by: Kimberly Reeves on Jan 15, 2013
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11/22/2013

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1
“A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties
and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish andmake suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free
schools.”
 
Texas Constitution
Article 7 Section 1
 
WHAT KEEPS TEXAS SCHOOLS FROM BEING AS EFFICIENT AS THEY COULD BE?Paul Hill
The framers of the Texas State Constitution did a good thing when they defined the
state’s obligation
to provide a
efficient 
education system
for all the state’s
children. Like all states, Texas needs to make sure all children learn what they needto become self-supporting participants in the economy and self-directing citizens of a modern democracy. T
he “efficient” term adds something important, i.e. a concernwith using taxpayer money and students’ time to the greatest benefit to the state
 and thereby
protect the “rights and liberties” of the people
.
Past education policy debates have ignored the “efficient” term. In particular, theeducational “adequacy” movement has set questions of optimum resource use aside,
implicitly accepting established ways of doing business that were never built forefficiency, and asking how much more money, given the way the system now runs,would be needed to get much better outcomes for students.In a world where resources are always finite, it is necessary to considereffectiveness in light of expenditures, i.e. efficiency. The most efficient policy orprogram is one that produces the highest ratio of outcomes, however measured, perdollar spent. The point: there are multiple ways to get to effectiveness and some aremore efficient than others. This, not the funding level for a system that is structuredto be inefficient, should be what the court focuses on.
BARRIERS TO EFFICIENCY 
Three things about today’s public education militate against efficiency:
1)
 
Costs are hidden and unknown2)
 
Schools are forced to do many things that detract from their main work, andtie up resources that could be used more aggressively.3)
 
There are many barriers to experimentation with new ideas and transfers of funds from less- to more-efficient schools and programs.
Costs are hidden
 
2Why is our current system not built to be efficient? There are many layers to theanswer, but the most basic is that our system does not require, or even allow,schools to count the cost of what they do. Even if school leaders wanted to make themost effective use of every penny, they would not have the basic information theywould need, about what different people, resources, and processes cost.The same is true at the district level. Districts do not track how much is spent at theschool level or on centrally administered programs and services, in a detailedmanner which would allow them to make meaningful efficiency/productivitycalculations. Districts can create estimates of how much is spent per school or perpupil, but these depend on simple averaging operations
for a school that meanstotal district expenditures divided by the number of students in the district multiplied by the number of students in the school.Results based on averaging are at best weakly linked to reality, since 1) in Texas thebroad spending category
called “instruction”
accounts for over half of total spendingin a district and these are unevenly distributed among schools; 2) some schoolshave more resident programs and resources (e.g. tutors, counselors, enrichment specialists) than others; and 3) some schools have more teachers per pupil thanothers, and 4) some schools
often those that also have disproportionate numbersof teachers and resident special programs
also have more highly paid teachersthan other schools in the same district.Thus, even if educators wished to calculate efficiency, and judge they could not do sowith the information available.
Mandates tie up funds arbitrarily
The lack of data is just the tip of the iceberg. In general, schools are required to dothings that have been mandated without any consideration for their cost orconsequences for school performance. Moreover, these mandates must be fulfilledeven if people in schools see better ways to use the resources available to them.
I won’t try to provide a comprehensive list of such mandates here.
1
But exampleswill help.
1
See, for example, Chubb, John E., Overcoming Governance Challenges in K-12Online Learning, in Finn, Chester E. and Daniela Fairchild,
Education Reform for theDigital Era
, Washington, the Thomas Fordham Institute 2012, pp.99-134/; Hill, PaulT., Picturing a Different Governance Structure for Public Education
 
in Manna, Paul and Patrick McGuinn (eds).
Rethinking Education Governance,
 Washington D.C, Brookings Press 2012 (forthcoming). See also Murphy, Joseph,
Governing America’s Schools: The Shifting Playing Field,
Teachers College Record 
Volume 102, Number 1, February 2000, pp. 57
84
 
3Some come from state legislatures, which set days and hours of operation for
schools; allocate funding in well defined categories to limit schools’ freedom
over how they spend their money; set licensing requirements that prevent schools from hiring people without specific (and often arbitrarily defined)training and experience; and mandate school staffing patterns
a teacher forevery so many pupils, a minimum administrative structure for a school nomatter how small (e.g. a principal, assistant principal, librarian and nurse)and an extra administrator for every so many students above someminimum.Some come from the federal government, e.g. requirements that teacherspaid from federal funds be given some duties and not others, that schools useparticular forms of test to assess student learning, that handicapped childrenbe educated in the least restrictive environment possible but be givenwhatever extra instructional services they may require without regard forcost.Further mandates come from local school boards, which can decide what methods and materials schools may use, and assign staff to a school without 
regard for the school’s needs and priorities. Local school boards also create
mandates for particular schools when they intervene in staffing orprogramming decisions on behalf of constituents.Nobody would seriously argue that all these mandates were put in place to makeschools more effective or efficient. In fact, no single rationale can explain them,other than they are designed to protect adults. When adopted, by legislatures,school boards, or administrative agencies, most were justified as reasonableexpedients in crisis or concessions to group demands.There are some mandates that were initially justified as increasing schooleffectiveness
for example, class size limits, teacher licensing, seat timerequirements, and mandates that drive salary decisions and protect schoolemployees at the expense of students. Some of these mandates have certain logic,and there could be some examples of schools that adopted certain policies (e.g.small class sizes) to good effect. However none of mandates were based on evidencethat the required actions made all schools more effective, or were more effectivethan other possible actions costing then same amount.
2
Nor were these supposedlyeffectiveness-oriented mandates coordinated in any way. Each was the product of targeted advocacy, not an integrated theory of school effectiveness. Instead, theywere enacted one at a time and often for different reasons.
3
 
2
 
Some governance constraints arise from perennial problems, e.g. schools’ tendency
to under-serve handicapped children and to try to hand pick the easiest-to educateso they can look good. Rules to protect students against discrimination are perennial
3
For a more complete account on the constraints imposed on experimentation andflexible use of public funds see Hill, Paul T., Marguerite Roza, and James Harvey,

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