Schoolhouses, Courthouses and Statehouses: Solving the Funding-Achievement Puzzle in America's Public Schools
May 20, 2009
Eric A. Hanushek and Alfred A. Lindseth
Princeton University Press
This important new book by economist Eric Hanushek and attorney Alfred Lindseth is the most cogent and comprehensive analysis of America's school-finance challenges that I have ever seen. They establish the fundamental problem, which is that achievement isn't where it needs to be. They show how education resources have soared even as test scores and graduation rates have stagnated. They examine the unsuccessful efforts of elected officials to solve this problem by fiddling with funding formulae, special programs, class sizes, and other input manipulations. They examine the even less successful (but often costlier) efforts to solve it via the courts--and show how none of the most popular approaches to revamping school financing via judicial action in the name of "adequacy" is based on anything real. As they dryly remark, "The absence of a systematic positive relationship between spending and achievement presents a real challenge to the consultants who purport to describe the spending necessary to achieve adequate levels of student achievement." Finally, they offer a plausible alternative approach, a "performance-based funding system" which, in shortest form, says "focus funding and policy decisions on student outcomes, provide incentives and funding to achieve outcome goals, and evaluate whether what is being done is consistent with improving student outcomes." (Yes, there are 70 more pages elaborating on this, how to do it--and what all needs to change (plenty) in order for it to happen.) This book deserves serious attention by everyone concerned with student achievement and school finance.