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Friday, October 24, 2014 | Last updated: 5:03am

Public school funding not a competition



Earlier in January, Education Week posted its annual Quality Counts report card on public education, and if the state of Arizona was a high school student, it would be hiding its report card from its parents right about now.

States’ grades were determined by averaging the chance for students’ success based on K-12 achievement, the teaching profession, school finance, standards, assessments, accountability, transitions and alignment.

Arizona scored a 72.2 percent, below the national average of 76.9 percent, which places it 43rd out of 51 states (the District of Columbia was included).

Arizona’s poor results probably contributed to Jan Brewer’s discussing education in the State of the State address Monday night, in which she announced that she would release a “comprehensive performance funding plan” where schools are financed based on “high marks” and “improvement in performance.”

While a reasonable idea, the concept of rewarding schools based on performance isn’t exactly new.

Lawmakers in Indiana proposed a similar idea in December. Their plan would give schools $500 for every student who received an 85 percent or higher on the math and language arts portions of their state’s standardized test, according to WLFI news in Lafayette, Indiana.

However, most of these plans don’t work out the way they’re supposed to. Brewer at least conceded that enrollment-based funding is still necessary, but the truth is that a competitive reward program will just end up leaving poorer communities in the dust.

A study performed by the Center for Education Policy Analysis at Stanford University in 2011 found that the education gap between rich and poor families is 30-40 percent higher than it was 25 years ago. Which could explain why, in France, President Francois Hollande proposed banishing homework from primary schools so that poorer students don’t fall behind richer students.

This means that the affluent communities, where parents come from more educated backgrounds or are able to afford tutors for their children, will see the most success and thus get the most funding under the new policy.

Brewer seems to have acknowledged this problem in saying that she would also award money to schools based on their improvement. This would be the perfect solution, if funding for improvement actually worked.

In 2012, the Washington Policy Center looked into why having a Common Core curriculum is bad for education. The results warned that a common core would close the door on innovation and that the set standards are usually of insufficient quality.

In order to able to reasonably assess schools, the state would have to rely on the Common Core curriculum, and while the practice might move Arizona up in the quality education rankings, it would do little to further the actual value of a flopping education system.

Brewer is right: Something needs to be done to reform education in the state of Arizona. But despite how well competitive based funding fits into the theme of her State of the State address, it doesn’t fit into the Arizona school system.

School reform isn’t as simple as creating a competition to be the best. It requires a careful and holistic approach to measuring where funds are needed in order to improve the overall quality of education in the state. Brewer can’t just throw money at the problem and let the schools scratch and claw their way to the top to get the biggest chunk.

– Dan Desrochers is the opinions editor. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu or on Twitter via @drdesroches


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