Supreme Court Couples School Spending and Achievement

Alfred Lindseth and Eric Hanushek over at Education Next report on a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Horne v. Flores, which overturned court-ordered school spending in Arizona without regard to student outcomes. Why do we care? Because the Court’s logic – that state-ordered increased school spending without tracking student achievement inappropriately intrudes into the power of localities –speaks directly to the decades of Abbott Court decisions and Corzine’s School Funding Reform Act.

According to the Supreme Court, we should be measuring equity through student achievement, not through spending. But in New Jersey we do it the other way around. The check gets written without reference to achievement on the premise that hand over the money and improved performance will follow. But, according to Lindseth and Hanushek, it doesn’t.
(C)ourt orders for substantially increased school funding seldom resulted in improvement in student performance. This was the case in Kentucky, New Jersey, and Wyoming, where billions of dollars of increased funding did not significantly improve student achievement relative to that in other states. Only in Massachusetts, where more fundamental changes in standards, accountability, and other aspects of school policy were incorporated with increased appropriations, did students tend to do significantly better following court intervention.
In other words, it’s pedagogical and curricular reforms that work, not more money. We know this, right? It’s that “duh” moment. Now, the NJ DOE could argue that its efforts at high school reform and standardized curricula across the state meet that benchmark for accountability, but a quick glance at our assessment scores in poor urban areas belies any quantifiable improvement. And the mechanism we’ve used for distributing money – either Abbott or SFRA – is independent of student growth.

So, we’ve been doing it wrong all these years, or at least incompletely. Is someone out there studying Massachusetts?