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Critical Issue:
Rethinking the Use of Educational Resources to Support Higher Student Achievement

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ISSUE: Creating standards-based schools that are accountable for helping all students reach higher levels of achievement requires schools and districts to rethink their educational resources--especially time, staffing, and money. As districts begin to support schools in becoming increasing accountable for results, they are finding that schools need: more time for students in academic subjects and more individualized attention; time and dollars for ongoing teacher professional development and planning; and investment funding for the purchase, introduction, and classroom implementation of new curriculum materials and teaching practices aimed at higher standards.

As schools begin to create their own successful strategies for improving student achievement, they are finding they need more autonomy and authority in the use of time, the selection and use of staff, and the alignment of funds. Through the process of resource reallocation and the addition of new sources of funding, schools and districts can implement strategies that make the best use of their existing resources and their new funds to ensure higher levels of student achievement.

Overview | Goals | Action Options | Pitfalls | Different Viewpoints | Cases | Contacts | References

OVERVIEW: Creating school and district budgets used to be a fairly straightforward process. Administrators would allocate one teacher for every 24 students or so, depending on the grade; add a few subject specialists, depending on budget availability; add teachers for special programs, such as special education and bilingual; and assign librarians and guidance counselors based on district finances. Then they would create a district structure to supervise, ensure legal compliance, and provide cross-school services such as payroll and transportation. Any additions were made around the edges of the basic structure. This process resulted in school and district resources being organized in strikingly similar ways across the country.

This typical organization of school resources is being challenged by schools and districts that are looking for ways to improve student achievement. Measuring student achievement through a defined and tested set of educational standards, these schools and districts are providing instruction with the goal of ensuring that students learn essential concepts, content, and skills (rather than merely covering a curriculum or participating in a certain program). Yet many schools and districts are finding that their current use of resources does not support standards-based reform. In addition, they are finding themselves in a financial pinch because of rising student enrollment coupled with limited tax dollars (Miles, 1997). Besides making the case for more money from the public, schools and districts must look at ways to use their existing resources more effectively.

Allan Odden Allan Odden, director of the Consortium for Policy Research in Education, University of Wisconsin at Madison, states that the productivity of the educational system can be improved if schools and districts use resource reallocation to ensure that existing resources and new funds are used for effective instructional strategies [564 K audio file]. Excerpted from the audiotape in A Better Return on Investment: Reallocating Resources to Improve Student Achievement (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, 2000).

Research on high-performing schools shows that there are many ways to organize time, staff, and money to improve student achievement. Miles and Darling-Hammond (1997, 1998) initially identified a common set of six principles that describe how high-performing schools use educational resources. New American Schools, an organization that supports districts in implementing proven comprehensive school reform models, has continued to expand this understanding of how schools and districts change their use of resources. This work has identified 12 resource strategies used in high-performing schools (Miles, in press).

Karen Hawley Miles Karen Hawley Miles, president of Education Resource Management Strategies, discusses resource principles that are present in high-performing schools [875 K audio file]. Excerpted from the audiotape in A Better Return on Investment: Reallocating Resources to Improve Student Achievement (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, 2000).

Nationwide, a number of schools have reorganized their educational resources to make dramatic improvements in student achievement. These high-performing schools organize time so teachers can work together. They provide longer blocks of instructional time. These schools organize teaching staff and students to allow for smaller group sizes and more personal attention. Student groupings are targeted to individual student needs; the groupings are flexible, and they vary during the school day. These schools put more resources in prevention than remediation. All educators and other adults in the school have an explicit role in supporting student learning, and new staff members fit the needs and culture of the school. The largest percentage of teachers work in academic areas. The schools provide significant time and funds for professional development. Technology is integrated into the curriculum. All school programs and funds support the overall school-improvement design.

The reorganization of district resources is based on a vision of how schools can make more productive use of their resources to improve student achievement. Building on an understanding of school needs, districts can realign district resources to support necessary changes and augment promising practices. After existing resources have been changed, sometimes with painful consequences to the people staffing the outmoded programs, the district will be able to argue more forcefully for new resources to support any underfunded initiatives.

School districts can begin the process of resource reallocation by clearly defining their instructional goals and considering new alternatives for organizing district resources to help schools meet those goals. Five ways to organize resources are: rethinking school staffing, time, and class sizes; rethinking district spending, especially for professional development and staffing organization; restructuring teacher salaries; giving schools more autonomy in the use and organization of resources; and finding new sources of funding.

School Staffing, Time, and Class Sizes

The basic organization of schools is strikingly similar across districts. New resources typically are added outside the regular classroom rather than into it. Despite calls for restructuring, a number of surveys suggest that schools rarely engage in a major reorganization of school-level resources (Canady & Rettig, 1993). The following strategies can be used to reorganize the areas of staffing, teacher time, student time, and class sizes.

Staffing. Nationwide, schools average one adult for every nine students (National Center for Education Statistics, 1999, Table 87, p. 94). "Adult" includes teachers as well as nonteaching staff, such as administrators, librarians, guidance counselors, instructional aides, student support services staff, and administrative support staff. Yet only about 52 percent of all school staff are classified as teachers (National Center for Education Statistics, 1999, Table 86, p. 93). Many of these teachers are specialists who work outside the regular classroom, often with individuals or small groups. As a result, class sizes for both elementary and secondary schools average 24 students per teacher (National Center for Education Statistics, 1999, Table 69, p. 79). Because of these large class sizes, many classroom teachers complain that they cannot give students enough individual attention and they cannot find time to work with other teachers to improve student achievement.

Karen Hawley Miles Karen Hawley Miles, president of Education Resource Management Strategies, notes that almost 50 percent of educational resources are allocated to special programs (such as pull-out programs and student support programs). The net effects are less resources in the regular classroom, larger class sizes, and fragmented instruction for most children [862 K audio file]. Excerpted from the audiotape in A Better Return on Investment: Reallocating Resources to Improve Student Achievement (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, 2000).

To use staffing more effectively to promote standards-based reform, Miles and Darling-Hammond (1997) recommend a reduction in the use of specialist teachers and more generalized roles for all teachers within the regular classroom. They note: "Schools rethinking resources could consider how remedial, special education, Title I, and bilingual education resources might work together to support an integrated plan to benefit these students in the regular education setting" (p. 6).

Teacher Time. Most schools are not organized to provide enough common planning time for teachers to improve and sustain student achievement. Researchers find that teachers need at least three hours a week to work together (Bodilly & Berends, 1998). Elementary school teachers typically have at least one period free from instruction during the school day, as well as lunch and a short period of time before and after school. In secondary schools, a teacher might have two periods (out of seven or eight) free from instruction, in addition to lunch. But traditional schools have not provided this time in long enough blocks to enable teachers to work together on significant curriculum projects or professional development activities. Usually, the time is short--45 minutes or less--and not coordinated with other teachers by grade or teaching teams. Teachers often are assigned administrative duties during this time.

Some schools have reorganized their daily or weekly schedule to create long blocks of common planning time for teachers. In addition to helping schools change their schedule, districts can play a role in ensuring that teachers have ample time to work together. One common strategy is to add professional development days to the teacher contract. Another strategy to create staff development time is for schools to schedule weekly early-release days in which students go home one to two hours early so that teachers can participate in professional development activities. These early-release solutions require that districts find ways to ensure that students get the required number of instructional minutes, which often is mandated by the state. Sometimes the state allows a district to waive the number of required school days so that time can be provided for professional development. Cincinnati Public Schools, for example, was permitted to waive the minimum number of school days so that three days could be used for professional development. In other cases, the district is able to add a few minutes to the daily schedule to more than accommodate the instructional time lost by early release.

Student Time. Research confirms the common sense idea that if students spend more time on academic subjects, they will learn more (National Education Commission on Time and Learning, 1994). Schools that devote more and longer blocks of time to literacy and math show dramatic improvements in student achievement (Education Trust, 1999; Lake, Hill, O'Toole, & Celio, 1999). In addition, many of the successful Comprehensive School Reform models, such as Roots and Wings and America's Choice require that schools reorganize the school day to create 90-minute blocks of time devoted to literacy.

The use of time at elementary schools can be unpredictable and inconsistent because the individual classroom teacher controls the use of time, often with limited guidance or monitoring. Even though many schools and states have requirements specifying the number of minutes to be spent on each subject, teacher practice varies widely. Time surveys looking at how teachers use time can be a powerful way for teachers to assess whether they are spending enough instructional time supporting academic priorities.

Traditional secondary schools typically have short, daily periods devoted to each subject. These periods can limit the types of activities that teachers engage in with students. For example, project-based learning and other instructional activities that promote meaningful, engaged learning often require longer blocks of time. The standard high school schedule also gives roughly equal amounts of time to academic and nonacademic subjects instead of providing more time for students to develop critical academic skills. With the addition of physical education and nonacademic electives, students may spend less than half of their class time in academic subjects. In fact, analysis of traditional high school budgets often shows that barely half of the total budget supports the teaching of academic subjects (Miles & Darling-Hammond, 1997).

Karen Hawley Miles Karen Hawley Miles, president of Education Resource Management Strategies, notes that less than 50 percent of educational resources are allocated to academic subjects such as language arts, history, science, and math [325 K audio file]. Excerpted from the audiotape in A Better Return on Investment: Reallocating Resources to Improve Student Achievement (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, 2000).

The classic report Prisoners of Time, by the National Education Commission on Time and Learning (1994), highlights the research on this subject and documents the problems with the organization of time in most schools today. A more recent study, titled It's About Time and published by the Consortium on Chicago School Research, documents that fragmented schedules, unnecessary interruptions, and poor classroom management result in a loss of academic time for students; in some schools, only about half of the scheduled instructional time is actually used for instruction (Smith, 1998). Marzano and Kendall (1998) note the importance of instructional time in academic subjects when teaching to standards.

Schools attempting to match their use of time to educational priorities look for ways to create longer blocks of time to explore subjects in depth. They also find ways to spend more time on literacy and mathematics. Four ideas for making better use of time are: providing uninterrupted literacy blocks in the elementary grades; integrating academic goals throughout the school day in all subjects; offering before- and after-school programs to augment academics; and reorganizing the first two years of high school to focus only on core academic subjects (English, mathematics, science, and history/social studies).

Class Sizes. Reducing class size is a politically popular remedy to improve student achievement. National proposals to improve education have focused on the prominence of class size as an issue. Recent legislation in California provided funding to reduce class sizes in the early grades. Although creating smaller class sizes seems to make common sense, the research is clear that reducing class sizes across the board for all students in all subjects does not guarantee improved student achievement (Mosteller, 1995; Hanushek, 1995). The evidence from Title I research using schoolwide funds to make small reductions in average class size for all students has not been convincing. Research is clear, however, about three strategies: First, class-size reduction in the early grades (pre-K through second grade) can make an important, lasting difference in student achievement. Second, small reductions in class size make little difference; it is only when class sizes are reduced to 15 to 17 students that achievement increases predictably. Third, if teachers don't change their classroom practice to take advantage of class-size reductions, there is no reason to expect improved student achievement.

High-performing schools have incorporated these strategies and created significantly smaller class sizes for students in the early grades and even smaller group sizes for reading. Yet, effective use of resources does not necessarily require smaller class or group sizes for every subject and lesson. Some elementary schools have found ways to create small reading groups for part of the day by forming larger group sizes at other times of the day. Other elementary schools have created small classroom sizes by changing their staffing so that specialists become classroom teachers. Clifton Elementary School, part of the Cincinnati Public Schools, provides an example of how districts can support schools in reorganizing existing resources to create much smaller groups for learning.

At the high school level, successful schools are finding ways to reduce the class size for academic subjects and reduce the teacher load for teachers in academic areas. Two primary strategies are being used: The first strategy is reducing the number of specialist teachers who work outside the classroom with special populations of students, and refocusing them to work in the regular classroom with all students or with groups of students in specific skill areas. The second strategy is shifting teachers from nonacademic subjects toward academic subjects. Both strategies are important for schools that are implementing standards-based reform.

District Spending and Funding

Too often, the district budget process simply begins where last year's budget process left off. Traditionally, district leaders ask each department head to submit modifications to their previous budget and sometimes to show how the funded activities will support district priorities. This process assumes that all existing programs should continue, and it provides no allowance for major shifts in the use of resources. Districts that step back to look at all of their resources may be surprised to find the many ways in which their resources do not support their stated goals. When reviewing the budget, district administrators should consider three issues: Are the district's instructional and noninstructional spending levels adequate to support high-quality education? Are allocations to the school level fair and consistent with the district's strategy and priorities? Does spending on district-level activities focus on instruction and align with a standards-based reform strategy?

District Spending and Funding Levels. District leaders need to articulate priorities and direct spending to support those priorities regardless of overall spending levels, but they must ensure that the community has enough money to begin the task. There is no one way to define how much money is enough, but a few test questions can help put district spending in perspective: How does spending per pupil compare to other districts with similar student populations? How do teacher salary levels compare between schools and between districts? How does the community's tax rate compare to other similar districts?

If this analysis shows that the community is underinvesting in education, leaders must take the case for increased spending to the community. A community is much more likely to support increases in spending if leaders communicate clear priorities, demonstrate an understanding of how spending is tied to and influences student achievement, and are willing to make difficult trade-offs to ensure that new money gets to the heart of improving student achievement.

Money Allocated to Schools. As districts review their strategies and spending to better support school-level reform and improvement in student achievement, they need to review how much money they allocate to individual schools. Schools that are successful in improving student performance rethink their use of resources to ensure that they devote as much as possible to academic instruction and that they provide more individual attention to students when appropriate. To achieve these goals, schools may begin to request changes to traditional staffing patterns or to use budgeted dollars in different ways. For example, a school may request to convert staff positions to professional development dollars or to trade support staff for instructional staff. Although the requested changes often are quite small at first, districts need to have clear guidelines for school-level resources so that they can respond flexibly and fairly to each school.

The district should be clear about how much money each school should have before rearranging district spending or increasing school-level control over dollars. Otherwise, the district runs the risk of confusing decentralization with budget cutting and also of wasting a school's energy developing plans to spend money that will not be available. The district needs to begin by reviewing two critical issues: How much has the district allocated for the elementary grades in comparison to middle school and high school (dollars by level)? Has the district distributed dollars across schools equitably to meet the needs of its student population? In other words, do schools at the same grade level--with the same number and mix of students--get the same level of resources (dollars per school)?

Such an analysis may yield surprising results because districts often do not know the answers to these questions. Districts typically allocate money for staff positions rather than dollar amounts to schools. Often districts distribute each type of staff separately, and budget conditions each year may cause districts to change staff allocated by position. In addition, districts sometimes use different rules depending on the funding source. When the money is added up, a district may not have a clear sense of the total dollars spent for each level of school or for each type of pupil. Despite apparently objective formulas, schools can end up with very different levels of resources.

This review of spending by level and school gives districts a chance to evaluate whether they want to move toward a different allocation of resources in the elementary, middle, and high school levels or by type of student need. Despite many districts' stated focus on early education, most districts spend more per pupil on high school students than elementary students (Odden & Busch, 1998). And many districts--such as those in Massachusetts and Ohio--do not provide extra dollars for students from impoverished backgrounds; instead, they rely completely on Title I and state funding to take care of these needs (Odden & Busch, 1998).

Alignment of District Spending with Academic Priorities and School Reform Strategies. Instead of demanding and monitoring a school's compliance to set methods and curriculum, districts implementing a standards-based schooling system should focus on clearly outlining standards for student achievement, supporting schools in meeting these standards, and creating accountability for doing so. Most districts are finding that this role shift demands changed priorities for investment in the following ways: devoting more dollars and realigning existing dollars to create more strategic and powerful professional development for teachers; supporting school-level transformation by changing the use or mix of staff; ensuring that standards are defined clearly so teachers can use them to guide classroom instruction in each subject and grade; providing access to powerful, proven curriculum and instructional materials that are aligned with state and district standards; ensuring that student-assessment data is useful and accessible and that it supports school-level academic priorities; and providing school-level support and accountability for improving instruction and student achievement. Two areas in particular deserve special comment: creating a powerful district-level professional development spending plan, and supporting school transformation by changes in staffing use or mix.

Professional Development. Professional development may be the area in which districts can have the most powerful impact on improving classroom practice. But most districts devote only a small percentage of their budget to professional development. These dollars often are divided between many programs that are fragmented and sometimes conflicting (Hertert, 1997; Miller, Lord, & Dorney, 1998). Further, the majority of professional development dollars pay for workshops or one-session presentations offered to individual teachers away from the school site. This method of delivery goes directly against a growing consensus about the kind of professional development most likely to increase student achievement. The National Partnership for Excellence and Accountability in Teaching (1998) states that the most effective professional development is built into the school day, is continuous, provides collaborative problem solving, is offered to school-based teams of teachers, and involves thorough follow-up and support.

Fixing this inadequacy in professional development requires that districts redirect existing dollars toward the most important priorities using proven methods for delivering professional development. Districts should determine what dollar amounts they are currently spending to support professional development activities and then develop and reorganize around a very different strategy for providing more effective opportunities for teachers and school leaders to learn.

Changes in Staffing Use or Mix. With the right incentives and support from the district, some schools can make necessary changes in organization and resources. But other schools may require district-level action to initiate change. For example, high schools may need to reduce spending on nonacademic teaching staff. The traditional high school often employs more teaching staff for nonacademic subjects than for English, math, science, and history. As a result, more than half of high school teaching resources are aimed at goals not being measured by standards that states and districts have set. Also, class sizes for core subjects often are 30 students or larger, and teachers are responsible for more than 125 students at a time. Changing this situation in any significant way requires reducing the number of teachers in nonacademic subjects and increasing the number of teachers in academic subjects. Principals and school-based decision-making groups may have difficulty making such dramatic shifts in staffing. Until districts take steps to change this balance, many high schools will struggle to make marginal improvement.

Restructuring of Teacher Salaries

It is no secret that teaching salaries nationwide lag behind those of other professionals. The gap between teacher salaries and those of other professionals is especially great for two types of individuals desperately needed in schools: high-performing individuals from top colleges who have many career options, and those trained in math and science (Mohrman, Mohrman, & Odden, 1995). The gap in potential salary levels grows wider over a teaching career (Conley & Odden, 1995). The most talented individuals sacrifice much higher potential earnings if they remain in teaching. To reward the most talented and productive teachers, district administrators need to find ways to restructure teacher salaries to provide more competitive earnings. In addition, they need to reconsider their practice of paying all teachers at the same salary level regardless of subject area.

Because school budgets are composed primarily of teacher salaries, raising teacher salaries for all teachers--regardless of subject or accomplishment--becomes an expensive proposition. Achieving significant increases in teacher salaries without bankrupting the district requires rethinking the structure of teaching salaries. Since the 1920s, virtually all districts have used the same basic salary structure. This structure sets a starting salary level, which typically applies to teachers with the same level of education in every grade, school, and subject. Recently, however, some districts have added small increments to the salaries of teachers in hard-to-staff subjects, such as math and science (Protsik, 1996). Teachers move up the salary ladder either by logging more years of teaching or accumulating education credits. The result of this salary structure is that districts invest a significant portion of their dollars in paying for experience and education credits.

Most districts increase teacher salaries far more for experience than for obtaining more education. (For an example, refer to a chart showing the distribution of salary dollars in Boston Public Schools.) For this investment to make sense, there would have to be a very clear link between teaching experience and student achievement. Although some studies have found that the first five years of teaching experience improve the quality of teaching, there is no consistent relationship between experience and teaching quality after this point in a teacher's career (Murnane, 1996; Hanushek, 1995). This research does not establish that experience after five years has no value. Rather, it suggests that experience by itself--without coaching, hard work, and systems that reward and encourage good teaching--does not automatically lead to improved teaching. The same holds true for the accumulation of education credits. Numerous large-scale quantitative studies have failed to establish a relationship between a teacher's attainment of additional graduate credits and student achievement (Hanushek, 1995).

At the same time, however, evidence suggests that high-quality professional development can improve teaching performance (Darling-Hammond, 1990; Evertson, Hawley, & Zlotnick, 1985). The current salary structure, however, does not create incentives for teachers to obtain high-quality education that enhances their own practice. Instead, it awards salary increments automatically with education credits. Murnane (1996) notes that this practice creates an incentive for teachers to find the easiest and cheapest means of attaining education credits. In considering costs, a teacher would likely weigh both the out-of-pocket cost of obtaining credits and the time and effort required. The current structure encourages teachers to choose the least challenging and least expensive educational experiences, rather than investing in training most likely to improve teaching performance.

Researchers from the Consortium for Policy Research in Education have partnered with teachers unions to develop models for alternative salary schedules. These models focus more on demonstrated skills, knowledge, and teacher competency.

School Autonomy in Using and Organizing Resources

Standards-based reform and comprehensive school reform place accountability for student achievement with principals and teachers at the school level. Districts have begun to revamp their standards and student-performance measures and to consider how incentives should be adjusted to improve student achievement. These reforms assume that principals and teachers will make the necessary changes in curriculum, instructional practice, and organization necessary to raise student achievement. Some districts may allow schools the flexibility to choose curriculum materials, but few districts grant schools the kind of control over their resources that is needed to create and sustain new, high-performing school designs. Without such control, schools will have difficulty sustaining new strategies and principals and teachers will not feel accountable for results. Three important strategies in this area are control of teacher hiring and assignment; control of staff organization, time, and money; and budget flexibility.

Control of Teacher Hiring and Assignment. When schools create new organizational structures to match their school improvement designs and to take advantage of the skills and interests of their staff, teachers are no longer considered interchangeable parts. A single teacher who refuses to implement a school's chosen instructional strategy can drain energy and limit progress. Similarly, losing a key teacher can destroy precious momentum and waste resources invested in team building and learning skills specific to a particular strategy. Giving schools more control over who teaches in their school is a critical piece of creating more accountability and helping schools to sustain improvement. Schools need to be able to hire new teachers who bring the needed skills and commitment to implement a school's instructional approach.

Some districts are attempting to give schools more control over teacher hiring and assignment. For example, in Memphis, after six months either the teacher or principal may request a transfer if the teacher has not committed to or chooses not to commit to the school's chosen strategy. In Cincinnati, school-based teacher teams select new hires from a list of candidates without regard to seniority; if the teams do not find a teacher who meets their needs, they may continue to interview teachers. In Boston, schools that have defined positions requiring a unique combination of skills can post these positions outside the traditional hiring process. In many school districts, however, the commitment to protecting teachers with seniority--regardless of teacher quality and school-level continuity--ends up seriously limiting school-level flexibility. Bumping, the practice of allowing more senior teachers to displace junior teachers regardless of a school's choice, still regularly disrupts schools' teaching staff in districts around the country. (See Ballou [1999] for a detailed description of these issues in New York City.)

Not all of the problems in teacher hiring can be attributed to provisions in teacher contracts. More often, district management problems combine with contractual provisions to limit school control. For example, inaccurate projections of the numbers of students that will enroll in schools routinely drive last-minute staffing changes and disrupt teacher teams who have been working together during the summer. Another example of this combination of teacher contracts and poor management practice is the reluctance of many principals to give poor evaluations to underperforming teachers; instead, principals find ways to transfer such teachers. This practice dilutes the quality of the pool of unassigned teachers seeking new positions. Finally, confusing and delayed timelines from district management can prevent schools from knowing when they can commit to hiring their chosen teacher.

Districts that want to support schools in creating the right teams will address contractual and management issues at the same time. Further, they will find ways to protect an individual teacher's right to employment while supporting the school's need for high-quality, cohesive teaching teams.

Control of Staff Organization, Time, and Money. In addition to needing more control over who teaches, schools need more freedom to organize staff, time, and dollars to support their improvement strategies. Unfortunately, district practices, contract provisions, the interpretation of court orders, and other regulations can limit a school's attempts to implement improvement. Miles and Darling-Hammond (1997, 1998) note three situations of such limitations: First, even though using teaching staff from bilingual, special education, and Title I programs to support an integrated reading strategy can be educationally superior and is legal, schools need support negotiating the often complex set of policies and regulations surrounding the use of these staff. Second, teacher contracts that strictly define the time frames that teachers can work and the scheduling of periods during the day can limit the reorganization of time to better support teacher and student needs. Third, district policies and contractual provisions may limit a school's ability to employ part-time staff for nonacademic activities so that classroom teachers can have more more common planning time and students can have longer blocks of literacy time.

Budget Flexibility. Before creating budget flexibility, schools and districts should understand who controls the current budget resources and how much leeway schools already have. They need to follow three steps: analyzing district dollars by function to understand where the allocation is controlled; assessing district practices and procedures to make them more responsive to school needs; and moving toward allocating dollars, not staff positions.

The first step involves analyzing all dollars spent to determine who controls what is purchased. This analysis compares school control to district control. For the past five years, the Cross City Campaign for Urban School Reform has conducted an audit of its 10 member districts to determine what percentage of the budget is controlled by schools and which functions are controlled by the central office. The current audit shows the percent of the budget allocated to the school site varies from a low of 46 percent in Baltimore to a high of 80 percent in Philadelphia (Cross City Campaign for Urban School Reform, 1999).

Step two involves understanding the flexibility that schools currently have in organizing their existing resources. Schools can use a framework for determining resource flexibility to compare resource use in a traditional district with resource use in a school-focused district. This framework helps schools consider time, schedule, staff organization, hiring and training, professional development spending, special program spending, technology, and other nonstaff spending.

The third step involves changing the way dollars are allocated. Districts may find that they need to move away from allocating dollars for staff and move toward providing schools with dollars based on the number of students in the school. As more schools want to change how they are using staff, keeping track of all of the trading in and converting of staff becomes very confusing. Edmonton Public Schools, in Edmonton, Canada, has allocated dollars to schools rather than staff since the 1980s; an explanation of its allocation process is presented in Allocating: How We Do It. Seattle Public Schools moved to a similar system in 1996 and developed the Budget Builder tool for creating school-based budgets. Cincinnati Public Schools moved to student-based budgeting in a portion of its schools in 1999.

New Funding Sources

Besides reorganizing existing resources, districts may need new infusions of dollars to transform the educational process. Such new sources of funding are helpful in jump-starting a transformation in the ways schools are organized and how students are being instructed. In the corporate world, businesses undergoing restructuring efforts recognize this need for additional funds and devote resources to the transformation. They even can take tax write-offs for the costs of undergoing a restructuring, including one-time expenditures for new materials and new equipment and for retraining people for new jobs. Although schools are unable to take similar tax write-offs, they do need to plan ahead for any change that requires a major financial investment. They also need to protect funding for important activities, such as professional development. Unfortunately, district spending on professional development often is vulnerable to the budget-cutting ax as community members push for dollars to be put into more staff or into instruction. To ensure funding, districts may have to make a case to their communities for this needed investment. The case should be built around a vision of needed transformation.

Solomon and Ferguson (1999) outline necessary steps to engage the community in support of an ambitious reform. These steps include: creating a vision of change, demonstrating and communicating the need for change, building a district leadership team and engaging all stakeholders, aligning the strategy, establishing and maintaining good communication with all stakeholders, choosing a reform model, and reporting on progress.

In some districts, the first and most important task is to clearly establish the urgent need for improvement. Although the public at large tends to rate public schools poorly, community residents often are fairly satisfied with their own local school. If parents and community members do not see an immediate need for change in their own school, they might argue that that the status quo is fine and any extra dollars should support new staff. But an objective analysis of student achievement against educational standards is changing the public's complacence with their local schools, whether low performing or high performing. Analysis of student achievement, adjusted for socioeconomic status, can highlight whether schools are performing up to standards, given their student populations. It also can show that some schools are more successful than others even with similar student populations. With goals for student achievement and some benchmarks for what is possible, district leaders may find it easier to push for change at the school and for increased investment from the community.

Many districts are finding they can fund transformation by combining many previously separate funding sources to support integrated school initiatives. Changes in federal and state legislation have made this strategy more possible. For example, the state of Maryland now requires school districts to create an integrated plan describing how their federal and state funds will work together. In Dorchester County, Maryland, all of the 67 funding streams have been combined to support the school-improvement design.

Some districts are using private funding to support their systemwide reform efforts. For example, the Boston Plan for Excellence, a local education fund, supports school reform work that costs between $30,000 and $50,000 per school during a four-year period. In exchange for school-level commitment to an ambitious set of professional development activities and organizational changes, this business-oriented foundation agreed to a strong financial commitment. Other local education funds also have begun to develop and provide financial support for school-level work.

The current goal of teaching all students to high standards requires improved use of each school's educational resources. But the foundation for high student achievement is "a schoolwide program that has a rigorous curriculum and instructional program at its core, and a range of strategies to teach regular, disabled, poverty impacted and English language learning students to high performance standards," notes Odden (1999). "In short, resource reallocation must be conducted in support of a coherent school strategy to raise the academic achievement of all students." To improve the productivity of the educational system, schools need more control over the resources of time, staffing, and money as well as the means to obtain new sources of funding. With the support of districts, schools can make the best use of their resources and funding to improve student achievement.


ACTION OPTIONS: Schools and districts can consider the following strategies to reallocate resources in order to meet their educational goals and priorities for all students:

IMPLEMENTATION PITFALLS: Districts may encounter six common pitfalls when helping schools use resources more effectively to improve student achievement. These pitfalls include: defining school-level budget flexibility too narrowly; neglecting to provide support and guidance to schools that are reallocating resources; neglecting to determine accountability for resource-reallocation strategies; failing to address the complex regulations, contract provisions, and management practices that limit flexibility; neglecting to plan ahead to address needs for dramatic staff adjustments; and neglecting to communicate goals and plans to the community.

First, school-level budget flexibility may be defined too narrowly. Districts may think that schools have budget control, but the actual flexibility often is defined so narrowly that schools have few options. Well over 85 percent of a school budget is tied up in staff. Even in districts that have moved to school-based budgeting, schools often have limited ability to make changes in staff. Instead, a district might give schools control merely over their substitute dollars, instructional supplies, and equipment. Even worse, the purported budget "flexibility" often comes with particular governance structures or approval processes that require schools to spend valuable group time and energy debating marginal changes having little to do with instruction. To avoid such situations, many reformers argue that districts need to move to more complete solutions, such as student-based budgeting.

Second, districts may not provide adequate support and guidance to schools that are reallocating resources. Many schools need assistance in seeing new possibilities for organizing resources and avoiding changes that have little chance of improving student achievement. Schools often make short-term budgeting and organizational decisions without considering a long-range plan to better match their complete set of resources to their educational strategy. Just giving schools more autonomy does not automatically guarantee improved student achievement. In actuality, increasing school-level control over resources often results in limited change initially. Worse, the first changes schools make in the use of resources may have little to do with improving achievement and more to do with adult needs. For example, in one Midwest urban district that was implementing school-based budgeting, many of the schools added instructional aides as their first major change. This strategy improved the quality of life for teachers but not necessarily for students. Research suggests that adding instructional aides typically does not result in improved student achievement (Mosteller, 1995).

As another example, a large urban district in the Northeast received state funding to provide extra support to students at risk of failing the third grade exit test. Most schools in the district used these funds to add instructional aides and after-school programs to help those students who had failed the exit test and prepare them for their next try at the test. Several schools, however, took a different and more comprehensive approach. These schools had been working to implement instructional practices at the earliest grades that diagnosed student skill levels, kept careful track of progress through the year, and provided ongoing intervention for students not meeting targeted improvement levels. These schools were betting that if they could focus individual attention in the early grades, fewer problems would occur in the later grades. Instead of putting the new dollars into an add-on program to help failing students after the fact, these schools used the money to strengthen their existing efforts by providing more professional development to classroom teachers and help in using assessment information to change instructional practices. Two years later, the schools that used the integrated approach realized significantly higher levels of student achievement.

To encourage effective planning and decision making, districts need to provide hands-on training and ongoing support to schools. Cincinnati Public Schools (see Miles, 2000) and Boston Public Schools organized this kind of support for schools. District support included presentations and working sessions introducing school leaders to possibilities for reorganization as well as hands-on support in reviewing budgets and creating new schedules and organizational structures. This support came in one-on-one review sessions as well as in scheduled group sessions where principals and instructional leaders discussed their concerns with district leaders.

Third, districts may neglect to determine accountability for resource-reallocation strategies. As districts move to create flexibility in the use of resources, they need to create accountability systems to ensure that the freed resources are used to promote the purposes for which they were provided. For example, the district may encourage schools to combine staffing resources from special programs such as bilingual, special education, and Title I to create more integrated, individualized instruction for every student. To support this approach, the district needs to create its own integrated accountability system that reviews the new, more comprehensive programs to ensure they meet the needs of students with special needs.

Fourth, districts may fail to address complex regulations, contract provisions, and management practices that limit flexibility. They need to explicitly address barriers to realigning resources as those barriers arise. Giving schools lump-sum budgets or control over certain items has little meaning unless there are significant changes in the practices and procedures surrounding staffing and other resources. Staffing practices, contracts, and regulations can combine to make meaningful changes in budget nearly impossible. For example, state and district regulations often dictate the size of classes and staffing levels for all programs. These policies and contracts even may specify the specialist staff that all schools must have. The result is that the entire budget for staff may be used up in following the state and district mandates, and the school is given no opportunity to shift resources to better fit its strategy. Similarly, giving schools hiring authority that is contingent on all senior teachers finding jobs becomes meaningless in a district with a surplus of senior teachers. The Boston Public Schools, with staffing and analytic support from the Boston Plan for Excellence, has created a district-level team to help resolve the difficulties that schools encounter as they are trying to reorganize resources.

Fifth, districts may not plan ahead to address needs for dramatic adjustments in resources. Schools need proactive district action and guidance to make many of the more significant changes in staff and organization. To realize the power of the existing resources, schools will have to make a series of changes aimed at a unified and focused vision. For example, they may need to combine the dollars that pay for extra support to students (such as Title I, bilingual, and special education) to support a single reading program in the early grades. They may need to change the mix of teaching staff to hire more academic teachers and fewer nonacademic teachers and support staff. They may need to eliminate their instructional aides and instead invest the dollars in professional development. The district can encourage and support schools in making such changes. On its own, a school may have difficulty dramatically changing the composition of its staff. Without district directives and support, teachers are not likely to recommend changes that result in lost jobs or new staff roles. Also, pulling dollars out of established programs and changing the mix of staffing may challenge cherished initiatives and disrupt the lives of respected professionals. Because public schools are politically governed, these changes will be difficult to make. Individuals whose jobs or causes are threatened always speak more loudly than those who have not yet been hired.

Sixth, districts may not communicate their goals and plans to the community. An informed and receptive group of parents and community members can be a strong ally in promoting resource reallocation and new funding to improve student achievement. Too often, districts cancel programs and shift staff positions without building a clear case for what they will do with the dollars that they are reallocating. Even with a clear rationale, the district must first build political support for these changes. Solomon and Ferguson (1999) discuss the process of building local support in the community. Hill and Celio (1998) describe the important role that outside organizations need to play in helping large urban school districts make changes. Local education funds that represent business and community interests are playing a major role in helping to create a political environment aimed at more dramatic change.

DIFFERENT POINTS OF VIEW: Objections to resource reallocation come from three primary viewpoints: First, some educators and parents may defend the many separate existing programs that serve special populations of students or that provide nonacademic services and coursework. Second, district administrators may fear giving schools more control over their resources. Third, some district and school administrators may believe that schools need more money and that efforts to make better use of existing dollars divert the agenda from raising new funds.

Each of these objections raises important considerations that should be openly acknowledged as districts and schools realign spending. In responding to these concerns, districts and schools should be able to describe how they are holding themselves accountable for providing the highest level of education possible for all students. Giving schools more autonomy cannot be done without a strong system of accountability and support to help schools make decisions that benefit students. Unfortunately, the current trend is to hold schools accountable while giving them very little control over what they can change in order to improve results.



Boston Plan for Excellence
2 Oliver St., 8th Floor
Boston, MA 02109
(617) 350-7600; fax (617) 350-7525
Contact: Mary Ann Cohen, Communications Director

Cincinnati Public Schools
P.O. Box 5381
Cincinnati, OH 45201-5381
(513) 475-7162; fax (513) 475-4840
Contact: Kathy Witherup, Director of New Programs

Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE)
Graduate School of Education
University of Pennsylvania
3700 Walnut St.
Philadelphia, PA 19104
Contact: Robb Sewell

Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE)
Wisconsin Center for Education Research
University of Wisconsin
Education Sciences Building
1025 W. Johnson St., Room 653
Madison, WI 53706
(608) 263-4260; fax (608) 263-6448
Contact: Allan Odden, Director

Cross City Campaign for Urban School Reform
407 S. Dearborn, Suite 1500
Chicago, IL 60605
(312) 322-4880; fax (312) 322-4885
Contact: Anne C. Hallett, Executive Director

The Education Trust
1725 K St. N.W., Suite 200
Washington, DC 20006
(202) 293-1217; fax (202) 293-2605
Contact: Kati P. Haycock, Director

National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools, and Teaching (NCREST)
Teachers College, Columbia University
525 W. 120th St., Box 110
New York, NY 10027
(212) 678-3432; fax (212) 678-4170
Contact: Suzette Hanser

National Partnership for Excellence and Accountability in Teaching (NPEAT)
1307 New York Ave., Suite 200
Washington, DC 20005
(202) 463-0771; fax (202) 478-6320
Contact: George Marx, Interim Executive Director

New American Schools
1560 Wilson Blvd., Suite 901
Arlington, VA 22209
(703) 908-9500; fax (703) 908-0622
Contact: Jen Kovar, Manager of Outreach and District Services
E-mail: or


Additional Reading

This Critical Issue was written by was written by Karen Hawley Miles, president of Education Resource Management Strategies in Dallas, Texas.

Date posted: 2000
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