Allocation Anatomy: How District Policies that Deploy Resources Can Support (or Undermine) District Reform Strategies

Marguerite Roza, School Finance Redesign Project, Center on Reinventing Public Education
May 15, 2008

In this short exploration of how the central offices of two (un-named) districts allocate their resources to individual schools, Marguerite Roza starts with the bold premise that "the resource allocation system is the very way in which organizations make choices about means and ends." Unfortunately, her interviews with district personnel make clear that they often have no idea how their decisions affect either means or ends or much of anything in between. For example, a psychologist assigned to cover 10 schools spends much of her time at only one (which her child attends). But these staff members nonetheless say things like, "I have no input into district resource allocations... I don't get my own supply budget or anything." They seem not to realize that they and how they spend their time is the main resource allocation. One district believes it is targeting literacy coaches toward low-income students when in fact it simply assigns one per school. The examples included here paint a distressing picture of the talents (or lack thereof) of central office staffs. They also show that bureaucratically allocating staff to schools is a recipe for educational disaster. Far better would be to allocate budgets to schools and let their leaders match resources to their differing needs for teachers, literacy coaches, psychologists and all the rest. Roza takes no stand here on the merits of such a weighted student funding approach, and indeed she acknowledges that "if school leadership is weak, then increasing the portion of resources allocated at the school level may not be a viable strategy." But it's no less viable than blindly assigning resources via bureaucratic formulae, especially if the architects and managers of such assignment systems are as clueless in most districts as they seem to be in the two profiled. You can read more for yourself here.

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