Posts filed under ‘Financial data’

A Blogger’s Reflection

Five years ago, I started the SchoolsRetooled blog and began to gather my thoughts on the US PreK-12 Education Delivery System and, more specifically, urban education. Periodic stints back in the classroom have put the blog on hiatus, and it flagged quite a bit after a family tragedy a couple of years ago. But I stand by my initial vision for education reform, not as a call for competition but, rather, a renewal of the system itself to create the capacity to fully integrate 21st Century innovations and continue to evolve toward excellence.

In December 2011, near the end of my first year of blogging on SchoolsRetooled.com, I published Seven Keys to Education Reform. In this 10-page summary of my approach to system reform, I identified seven levers of change that could improve the system’s functioning by getting more information from data systems, taking a broader view of pedagogy, streamlining organizations around the mission of educating the children, and providing incentives for common ground among educators and between educators and the communities they serve. Beyond organizational dynamics, my thesis presumed an absence of fault on behalf of any of the participants in the education system and, in particular, an end to ageist scapegoating.

In the years since then, policy conflicts defined by political affiliation have shaped the conversations among educators, much to my dismay. My biggest disappointment has been the extent to which the goals of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) were allowed to slip away and the 2014 deadline passed unnoticed. The Obama Administration relaxed the accountabilities, pushing for the Common Core State Standards and advancement of teacher evaluations. Conservatives renewed their support for competition for public schools, choosing incubation of ideas in charter schools, often with private bankrolling.

By the time ESEA was renewed late in 2015 bipartisan support was achieved in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) with very little prescription for how this would be ensured. The clearest policy directive was the prohibition on any further Federal intervention in accountabilities that the legislation defined as states’ rights. The legislature was ruled by Republicans in both houses; the Obama activism in lieu of overdue ESEA renewal was over.

I continue to believe in system reform. The quiet period after the passage of ESSA allows me to reflect here on progress made with my own agenda as well as initiatives needed in the future.

On no-fault education reform

Education reform has evolved such that rhetoric is less about frenzied reactions to missed targets for student achievement on high-stakes tests and more about opportunities for concrete system improvements and real school transformations. However, the worst performing districts often remain trapped in blame-based failure cycles. They will not be able to get out of their own way until they become more inclusive in their solutions, recognizing their allies and working in concert rather than with antagonism and derision.

On a student-centered data system

Data systems have shown great strides within education, but they are not student-centered. ESSA authorizes a limited number of districts to experiment with student-centered accounting, but they focus only on the revenue stream, not really addressing matching of revenues to expenses at the student level. I continue to believe that we will not be able to manage student outcomes effectively until both sides of the equation are in synch. Once the money is at stake, school systems that are reluctant to embrace the challenge of student-centered accounting will realize its necessity. Data on student outcomes and teacher effectiveness will follow logically.

On broad-based pedagogy

Software is beginning to catch up with the structural changes in hardware and data. This bodes well for implementation of blended learning, which balances digital resources with tradition methods. In addition, personalized and competency-based learning can be realized with greater potential for educators and students to share management of the learning process.

Educators are accepting technology that combines attendance, assignment completion, and grading in databases that can also support student portfolio development. In addition, these same platforms support collaborative projects that can be pursued and documented on shared platforms. Textual content is available digitally, and learning is becoming an interactive, multi-media experience. Student support is routinely enhanced with multisensory digital options and close-reading strategies.

On alignment to mission and benchmarks

There have been many experiments in school transformation; however, reorganizing the actual schools has not been a priority yet. I believe this will happen organically as data systems provide better information on student outcomes.

On performance incentives for Special Education

New Special Education guidelines from Federal regulators have shifted emphasis toward student outcomes. This promising development should help to accelerate progress toward grade-level proficiency. I continue to recommend earlier student involvement as members of their education planning teams, but there has not been much movement in that direction. For now, younger students tend to be present more so if they have disciplinary hearings than for prospective planning sessions.

On school leadership and general management

A couple of years ago, the time seemed ripe for two trends to deepen. The first was the emergence of empowered parents demanding a voice in troubled schools. The second was the trend toward education schools entering joint ventures with their management school counterparts within major universities.

Threats of parent trigger interventions have given way to mayors and school district leaders joining to speak with one voice, a more politically savvy voice that recognizes the importance of community members proactively. The university-based collaborations have gotten caught up in concerns about educators finding a back door to access to highly competitive MBA programs. I suspect the long-term solution will be dual degree programs that require admission to graduate programs in both the business and education schools.

On portable pensions

The issues around underfunding of pension plans continue to dominate the conversation, and most actions are currently being focused around solvency. Unfortunately, the recommendations are more likely to be made by those who have mismanaged the programs historically. The pension beneficiaries have continued to be called out for reasons that baffle me – they are the only people who have given up their pay to the fund without fail through the whole fiasco – and ways to eliminate funding shortfalls that reduce obligations to the pensioners get more traction than ways for the government employers to pay back their missing contributions to their employees. This is particularly troublesome when government entities got holidays from making their contributions in lieu of Social Security, something that would never be allowed in the smallest of entrepreneurial businesses.

On financial incentives linking educators to performance

As I stated originally, validated educator effectiveness reports need to precede merit-based pay. There has been significant progress in teacher evaluations and leadership performance assessment. However, there is more work to be done, which necessitates postponing this objective for a while longer. The recent developments in technology cited above should offer greater options for multiple measures of educator performance, a key to getting beyond controversial value-added test scores as the proxy for overall effectiveness in schools.

On valuing people of all ages

The fervor has died down over targeting veteran teachers as the source of all evil in education, and the conversations around accountability for test scores alone have softened. That said, charters schools continue to be organized with an unwritten rule against hiring teachers beyond a fairly young age. Teach for America and other similar programs continue to be granted exemption from teacher prep rules, giving an edge to youth-oriented private organizations that funnel a revolving door of teachers into public systems. As these groups mature, they are demanding a greater role in leadership at the risk of stifling the voices of educators with a deeper commitment to schools and important insight into the issues.

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January 22, 2016 at 12:44 PM Leave a comment

ESEA Compromise Bill Misses Mark on Student-Centered Accounting

Student-centered education cannot naturally transcend its current regulatory environment. The best intentions of educators will always give way to funding imperatives and enforcement of the rules. That is, unless the rules are changed. Today’s ESEA Compromise Bill does not do that.

The point of student-centered accounting for PreK-12 Education is the matching of weighted funding with the spending for the student as an individual. It is intended to be the driver for centering all information – financial, academic services, and outcomes – on the student in a case management model. What it is not supposed to be is a way to siphon off public school funds to private alternatives.

We currently fund districts, NOT students, and we manage district outcomes, NOT student outcomes. Unfortunately, the current ESEA compromise bill does not seem interested in a more rational approach that enables analyses concerning to whom and how we deliver education services. Rather than give districts an incentive to become better informed about mission-driven spending, the leadership in both Houses of Congress have used popular jargon inappropriately as a smoke screen for keeping districts flying blind on actual student services AND helping conservatives to get public money for private schools.

Commitment to bettering the schools would suggest new money guidelines for the public schools to help them revise their spending and service mix to improve outcomes. At some point, once the financial models are in place and validated, it would seem logical to have the money follow the student under extraordinary cases of private placements. But that is not the intent of student-centered accounting, nor is it in any way a top priority.

Further, the conservative approach to funding is to expand block grants, presumably allowing the states to manage their own money. This does not seem a bad idea in a naive world, but one only needs to examine the actual practices to see the flaw. Most states lack internal standards for charts of accounts, and the exceptions still miss the point. Perusing hundreds of pages of detail for education accounting in a given state never yields more than a handful of line items on Instruction. If you give them money in a block grant, they will spend it without giving themselves more than block grant details for resource allocation. It is not an informed approach.

Federal ESEA law must either (A) tell the states that they will get weighted student funding and must justify future funding requests based on how they spent the the money to teach each student, or (B) create a financial and cost accounting standard that guides states on how they can better help themselves. School districts will attend to the details in the data…and that definitely has nothing to do with actual teaching.

November 18, 2015 at 4:34 PM Leave a comment

Data on Resource Allocation?

Aggregate expenditures in the US on the “instruction” portion of education are approaching $0.5 TRILLION, and that’s only about 60% of total spending. So how do we spend it across the curriculum? Dunno…there’s no uniform chart of accounts to analyze that. And the folks we trust to manage resource allocation for education are the same people who don’t seem bothered by this…they just know they always need more money.

Financial charts of accounts are boring. Especially once you have gone through them state by state without finding any unifying principle. In fact, in most states you cannot find a standard across local districts. We have no idea how we as a nation allocate our instructional resources by grade, subject, or program area. Nor do we have the ability to compare variations in spending against student outcomes with any real specificity.

If Lunch Lady Doris spends $25 on a birthday cake…we’ve got her. Alert the superintendent…the press is on the way, inquiring minds want to know. Yet no one seems concerned about the details when we spend hundreds of billions of dollars on instruction and almost half our students fall below grade level proficiency in math and literacy. One line item, which comprises 60% of spending, is the full report on instruction.

Money matters. And we need to know where it goes. Food, transportation, and buildings consume significant resources, and spending that money judiciously is important. But we put way too much emphasis on prevention of impropriety in the latter categories than we do actively intending spending for education in a rational model for student learning.

The student should be at the center of the story – weighted funding based on intensity of educational needs – with matching of corresponding expenditures in a case management model. Is anybody listening?

July 17, 2014 at 11:41 AM Leave a comment

A Vision for Information and Pedagogy

A little over a year ago, I offered a proposal for a systems integration project in education that would redefine our approach to school finance, student outcomes, and teacher effectiveness. Today, I would back off from the notion of cloud-based data. Rather, the missing element in this system is the interface with the pedagogy cloud in which each district would privately invest. However, I believe the core of the plan remains quite viable and present it here more publicly for discussion.

SchoolsRetooledTM                                                                                 Confidential Draft

Sytems Integration Proposal

A crucial problem in the management of public K-12 education in the US is a mismatch between information systems and mission. Existing systems evolved from a regulatory compliance model centered on federal exigencies and do not support the mission of delivering high quality education services to all children locally. Essentially, $500 billion is spent annual without sound microeconomic analysis of the process or a clear understanding of the outcomes.

I am proposing that we create a model that starts with individual students and builds up to an integrated finance, student outcome, and educator effectiveness system. The three main components of the systems would include…

  • Finance: Unit funding of students would be based on formulas built around cohorts of students with similar educational needs. Total funding would depend on actual enrollment and collective intensity of service need.* Financial reporting would be developed for each student education center, which could run the gamut from online programs to residential schools. District services would be demand driven and funded by the education centers.
  • Student Outcomes: Each student would have a multi-media portfolio, including an educational profile and evidence academic progress, psychosocial benchmarks, and individual accomplishments over time. Student records could be uploaded from school activities as well as remote diagnostic and learning resources.
  • Educator effectiveness: Each educator would have a professional development record with details of employment, credentials and evidence from professional practice. Effectiveness reports would be developed from narrative, audio/visual, and survey data collected from student portfolios as well as relevant supervisory, peer and consumer input. This information would link to merit pay files in the finance system.

The system could be built on existing platforms such as Google Plus, Google Docs, etc. However, the key distinction between emerging social networks and the education plan would be the context for sharing data. While social networking enables an explosion of data to be amassed and shared widely in consumer markets, public education data would be collected for very private internal use only, essentially an implosion of data that was harnessed for microeconomic analysis and internal quality improvement. Regulatory reporting would remain public and identities would be continue to be protected.

The long range vision would be to develop an education data cloud that comprised a series of intranets serving individual school districts across the nation. State and Federal regulatory compliance needs could be met; meanwhile, each local education authority would be the keeper of its own details. However, a major enhancement would be a shared data standard that would allow for periodic and ad hoc surveys of system-wide data to document the performance of the nation’s public education system. In addition, the movement of students and educators across schools, districts, or states could occur without loss of data integrity.

* This would entail a major redefinition of data standard for a government service. A precedent can be found in the shift from cost-plus to a case management model in healthcare services in the 1980s.

© 2013 Kathleen T. Wright

 

 

February 5, 2014 at 8:56 AM Leave a comment

Teaching to the Test…Financially

Children who perform well with access to a standards-based curriculum in the classroom also tend to do well on standardized tests in the same content area. Teachers who worry about test scores generally learn that they do not need to tailor instruction to the test. However, an insidious form of teaching to the test happens at the school-wide resource allocation level. And limitations in financial reporting allow administrators to fly under the radar with this practice.

There is no uniform chart of accounts for general education at the Federal level. Only a handful of states utilize such accounting standards within their borders. Accordingly, there is no objective or normative data available for resource allocation within the largest category of spending on education each year.

Intuitively, we suspect that school leaders intensified investments in math and literacy after the passage of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Logically, this would have necessitated a shift in resources away from science, social studies, and elective courses. But we do not know how prevalent this practice might have been. We only know that US standings in science deteriorated globally over the same period. We cannot locate the smoking gun in the absence of detailed financial reporting.

The President has called for Federal incentives to improve STEM education. This will involve grant funding with some degree of regulatory tracking. However, total spending may actually become more obscure without consolidation of the dollars allocated between general and special funds and itemized accounts within categories. How new spending levels compare with historical patterns will remain unknown.

As I have stated previously, we would benefit from a more detailed standard chart of accounts at the Federal level. As the funding source, the US government plays a relatively small role in general education. However, as the data driver for the nation, federal regulators would do well to establish standards for record keeping that would allow periodic assessment of resource allocation.

Local education spending is highly flexible across academic content areas, and this may not be a problem. However, decision-makers need to own their choices in state and local reporting. And they need to be able to analyze student outcomes within the context of their spending patterns. This is unlikely to happen under the current data rules.

October 16, 2013 at 1:09 PM Leave a comment

Informed Policy for Efficient and Effective Public Education

School finance, student outcomes, and teacher effectiveness are inextricably linked. Unfortunately, the state of the art in data is woefully inadequate in each area. We cannot fund the mission of education, validate teacher effectiveness, or ensure desired student outcomes for an efficient and efficacious public education system without better information. And we certainly should not attempt to reinvent the system while remaining uninformed.

Consider that current policy rhetoric in public education would suggest that we…

  • Cut education spending, switch to block grant funding, and/or increase spending equitably instead of funding competitive performance-based grants.
  • Economize via ageism to cut older, higher-paid veteran educators from staff saving on salaries and breaking pension promises, increase salaries of effective teachers to $150,000 a year, and/or create compensation based on salary and merit pay for performance.
  • Fund enhanced services for gifted students and others who “want to learn,” provide combined education and social services for whole-child care, and/or shift money out of troubled districts and into charter schools or private alternatives…all while creating equity.
  • Improve teacher prep by hamstringing traditional programs with even more regulations, exempting fly-by-night schools and boot camps to keep them fleet-footed. And so on…

The absence of cognitive dissonance among policy makers is worrisome, given the logical inconsistencies among strategies, often within the same camp. Even more troubling is that we cannot reasonably assess any of these options given the current state of the art in real information. Regardless of one’s policy position, there is no clear path to valid analysis.

We currently fund bureaucracies with oblique formulas and regionally variable equity. There is no uniform chart of accounts that allows comparative analysis of long or short-term investments in educational programs from a financial perspective. Nor do we gain much insight into success or failure. For instance, we spend hundreds of billions of dollars on Special Education, yet we account for eligibility for services, not results. We may choose to highlight STEM education, but there is no data that captures comparative STEM spending or outcomes.

Technological change has created opportunities from simple paper reduction to virtual instruction. And, unlike incompatible policy-making, we actually can standardize and individualize our services to students at the same time. Beyond pedagogy, our information support for operational effectiveness is within reach with updated business systems. However, transitions with technology are costly. Again, we need a way to look at the people and the money.

Data standards and analytical tools need to be built into our new systems that allow us to be informed as we make choices to invest in productive capacity for learning as well as making sound decisions to subsidize whole child support in special cases.

May 8, 2013 at 3:10 PM Leave a comment

Rhode Island…the Little State That Could

Rhode Island has created what should be a national model for education accounting and data collection. Minor enhancements may be needed to aggregate information on virtual schooling among expenditures and to link city and town accounts for capital assets and pension liabilities. But the lion’s share of the work has already been done in Providence.

In 2004, the late Representative Paul Crowley, Senate President Paiva Weed, and Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Hanna Gallo collaborated to sponsor a better vision for education finance in Rhode Island. The result was a gargantuan effort to address the needs for transparency, uniformity, comparability, and accountability to mission in education spending. The system continues to evolve in its third year of full implementation under Commissioner Deborah Gist. But the Rhode Island Department of Education’s Uniform Chart of Accounts already could serve as a national model for K-12 finance data.

The US spends about $500 billion annually on education without matching the money to the mission of educating children. While the federal government only contributes about 10% of the funding, with state and local governments splitting the other 90%, financial reporting is only standardized with regard to a small number of federal regulatory line items.

The federal role in public education includes…

  • National data standards
  • Common Core standards for interstate portability of education
  • Management of “market” imperfections
    • Food and transportation for the poor
    • Disability benefits
    • Incubation of innovation
  • Funding adjustments for equity via specific grants

Autonomous state education authorities (SEAs) offer half the funding and carry the weight of decision support for the mission of educating the children. However, their informational common denominator is compliance data for federal reporting. Accordingly, most comparative analyses can go no further than aggregate data on general education, special student services, food, and transportation. Action items have been elusive; inefficiencies have been funded without intent or natural correction.

When Rhode Island began its data project, only six states – most notably New Mexico – had made substantive progress toward uniformity in financial data collection within their borders. Rhode Islanders gathered an extensive team of stakeholders. Together, they studied these exemplars of unified charts of accounts against their own needs for comparative analyses of local education authorities (LEAs) as well as internal assessment of the effectiveness of their spending patterns. The team paid close attention to every detail in analytics and created an incredibly robust decision architecture that addresses issues of money, mission, and regulatory compliance.

Two areas for development that I could see…

  • Virtual education resources have grown in unforeseeable ways as materials and delivery sites for education services. They need to be integrated into the system in multiple dimensions.
  • Balance sheet items concerning major assets, such as school buildings, and liabilities, such as unfunded pension obligations, need to be consolidated into school finance at least for analyses and decision-making. These line items do not have a consistent place in school or district finance, often falling under local government authority and residing in their accounting structure. However, complete understanding of these components of investment and their impact on scarce resources to support the mission of educating the children cannot be overlooked.

In addition, I am a believer in student-centered finance that goes beyond weighted funding to include direct linkage of expenses for case management. But that may be a generation away. In the meantime, hats off to Rhode Island.

Now can this best practice get shared…immediately?

February 27, 2013 at 11:51 AM Leave a comment

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