Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Follow the Money

If you want to start a debate, walk into a teachers' room and ask what people think about paying students for getting good grades.  If you want to turn up the temperature in the room, change the topic to whether or not there should be merit pay for teachers. In my conversations with many educators, there is little agreement on either subject.

But let's follow the logic.  What if central offices allocated funding to schools in the district that were more academically successful?  What if resources were allocated to each school not on a per student basis, but on a per standardized-test-passed basis or some other academic measure?  Am I turning up the heat?  What if state DOE's apportioned money by the same standard? You probably see where this is going. 

Now let's follow the money.  At the student level, money for success kindles minor controversy.  At the teacher level, it sparks righteousness on both sides.  At the school level, it blazes into an outrage fueled by equity issues. But then something shifts and money for success (Race to the Top) becomes warmly received.  There are many things debated about Race to the Top, but the underlying principle is something most states are bending over backwards to adhere to, not pushing back against.

Aren't there only two consistent options involving the use of federal money to improve education?

1. Success leads to Money.  Give money to successful states to give to successful districts to give to successful schools to give to successful teachers to give to successful students.  In this option, the people giving the money get to define what success is and everyone is accountable (literally) to the people they "work" for--that is, the people who pay them for said success.  If you consistently fail to hit targets the people who are giving the money set for you, you are not re-funded.

2. Money leads to Success.  Distribute money equally on a per-capita basis and let states, districts, schools, teachers, and students work together to define and achieve success.  In this option, the people getting the money get to decide what success is and everyone is accountable to one another for doing what they say they are going to do.  If you consistently fail to hit targets you set for yourself without adequate explanation, you  are not re-funded.

Of course there may a third option.  Disconnect money and success altogether.  Let success at all levels be its own reward. And let money be just a resource used to buy goods and services--keeping in mind that you get what you pay for.  Naive?  Un-American?

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