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CPRE's School Finance Research: 15 Years of Findings
CPRE's School Finance Research: 15 Years of Findings

August 2008

With the ever-increasing emphasis on rigorous performance standards in education, schools face more demands for accountability. In the world of school finance, this emphasis has induced a shift from equity to adequacy in policy and litigation.

For 15 years, the Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE) has worked to better align allocation and use of resources to school-based strategies to boost student learning.

The last installment in this series discussed uses of dollars after a school finance reform. This installment concludes the series by offering a synthesis of findings and implications for policy and practice.

As mentioned in previous installments of this report, the term adequacy may seem to narrowly focus on the amount of money needed to produce a desired level of student achievement. But the more general intent underlying the focus on adequacy is to redesign the education finance system to link resource levels, and resource use, more directly to student learning.

Over the past 100 years, per-pupil spending in the U.S., after adjusting for inflation, has increased about 3.5% annually, says UW-Madison education professor and CPRE director Allan Odden. The percentage of the dollar spent on instruction has remained the same, about 60%61%. Policy makers and researchers still need to know more about the way resources are currently being used within the instructional category, Odden says. Gaining that knowledge would represent a first step toward knowing how better to use these resources to produce higher levels of student achievement.

Reallocating professional development resources.
CPRE has developed a procedure for identifying all of a district’s and school’s investments in professional development and devising ways to redeploy those dollars to more effective strategies. This framework is used to conduct periodic fiscal audits of professional development to identify the level of investment and the foci of those investments. With this information, most districts, particularly larger districts, can reallocate substantial professional development resources to more intensive programs that focus on improving teachers’ instructional practice in core academic subjects like mathematics, science, reading, writing, communication, and history.

Gaining insight into “what works” in education.
The CPRE fiscal reporting structure shows expenditures by key educational strategies at the school and district levels, including details of all investments in professional development. By collecting these school-level data, as well as teacher- and classroom-level data, states can gain insight into “what works” in education. This kind of data enables policy makers and practitioners to engage in evidence-based policy making and practice and to reallocate resources to more effective uses.

Identifying an adequate level of resources.
CPRE also has developed an evidence-based method of identifying an “adequate” level of resources (see sidebar) for districts and typical elementary, middle, and high schools. This method yields data on the level and types of resources that should enable most schools to dramatically increase student academic achievement.

Doubling student performance and closing the achievement gap.
Odden suggests that states sponsor studies of schools that have doubled performance and incorporate these findings into training programs to help share that knowledge among all districts and schools. States then should recalibrate their school finance structures to provide the resources they need.

Identifying an adequate teacher salary level.
CPRE recommends that states analyze federal data to identify the salaries of workers whose knowledge, skills, and job responsibilities are similar to those of teachers, and then set the average teacher salary at about the same level. Odden also encourages states to provide salary premiums for teachers in subject area shortages—for example, mathematics and science—and in urban schools and low-performing schools. Salary premiums would help ensure that states can compete in the labor market for quality teachers in those subjects and in those communities.

Implementing new forms of teacher compensation.
Teacher compensation structures can more closely link the level of pay to the level of effectiveness in producing student learning. Although there are multiple ways to design such structures, CPRE research suggests that states and districts base increases in compensation not on education degrees and units, or years of experience (except for the first 3 years), but rather on factors linked to student learning gains, such as scores on a performance-based evaluation system. New compensation strategies encourage teachers to learn and use more effective instructional strategies.

Devising a more strategic human resource (HR) system.
A district audit of HR alignment would determine how well the elements of the HR system—recruiting, selecting, socializing, deploying, training, evaluating, and paying teachers—adhere to the district’s instructional improvement strategies and to its vision of good instruction. The various pieces of the HR system should send consistent and reinforcing messages, all geared to improving student academic performance.

Measuring student learning at three levels.
CPRE research aims to determine “what works” in education, using a variety of methodological approaches. CPRE researchers are identifying effective programs and strategies through sophisticated statistical techniques. One is a three-tiered educational framework that measures student learning factors at the student level, the classroom/teacher level, and the school level. CPRE researchers use this framework to verify whether, and to what extent, specific variables at these three levels, in specific contexts, actually link to student learning gains. Over time, the goal is to verify the positive impacts of various efforts to improve curriculum and instruction as well as the various cost elements in school-level adequacy models.

States and districts can restructure their financial reporting systems in ways that incorporate CPRE’s expenditure framework and its broader recommendations for use of classroom and teacher data. Investigating these issues inside schools provides a key to understanding—from both programmatic and fiscal perspectives—how to improve student achievement dramatically.

The complete CPRE report is available online as a 33-page PDF file.