Performance Based Education Funding

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A bill has been introduced that would give high performing or improving schools more money. Dale Frost, Governor Brewer’s Education Policy Advisor, and Dr. David Garcia, Associate Professor of Education at Arizona State University, discuss the pros and cons of the idea.

Ted Simons: Governor Brewer pushing for legislation tying education funding to test scores and other school performance measures. Proponents see it as motivation for schools to improve. Critics say it could hurt already struggling districts. Here to speak in favor of the bill is Dale frost, the governor's advisor for education policy, and against the measure is Dr. David Garcia, social professor at ASU's Mary Lou Fulton teachers college.

Dale Frost: we want to get to about 5% of funding over five years. Two-thirds new money, one-third from existing school funding. It would be based on what's called the A through F scale. Schools in districts get a grade based on how well they help students to learn English and math and improve graduation rates and those things and how many are passing the proficiency rates. It's basically growth and proficiency, and so yes, that would be at the district level. It's not teacher pay. It's not school based funding. It's district based funding.

Ted Simons: this performance, the metrics and matrix, tied to tests mostly?

Dale Frost: Primarily tied to aims but there's also points that districts will get if they help English language learners to reclassify and learn English. If you reduce dropout rates and increase graduation rates.

Ted Simons: this make sense to you?

Dr. David Garcia: The problem is it's almost exclusively test scores. Even reclassifying ELO students is according to a test. The entire letter grade system is based off making sure students do well on tests. I think you had it right when you opened up, most folks will call it achievement. What it is is making sure a student answers enough multiple choice questions right and incentivizing districts to teach to that test.

Ted Simons: is that wrong?

Dr. David Garcia: If you want to get students ready for life, absolutely. What we want to do is move to an education system where we focus not on what students know. It's easy to know something. The real innovative part, where states want to excel, we need to move to what students can do. There requires out comes well beyond a test score.

Ted Simons: how do you respond to the idea? We've heard this since aims started and beforehand that all this does is make for good test takers?

Dale Frost: That's partially true. If you are good at taking the test you'll do better on aims, our state assessment. There are two things to consider. One is that studies have shown again and again if you do well on a state assessment that you have higher out comes for income, graduation rates are up, you do better in college, and these kinds of things. We have to measure schools. So even though it's easy to vilify the test, there have been a lot of benefits. Research has shown that it has increased student achievement outcomes, not to the extent that we want. The other piece that's important is we're moving aims is going away in two years and we're moving to a better test that will be just like David was saying, better measures, critical thinking and some of those skills rather than rote memorization.

Ted Simons: with common core on the way, does this kind of performance based funding make better sense with a system like common core?

Dale Frost: I think that speaking as a parent if we want to get our students ready to be successful in life we want to get them to will the point where they can do something. There are no multiple choices in life. The research that Dale mentions, achievement is another test. The way we measure how things are doing on a test is look at another test at the end of the day.

Ted Simons: but can it be argued it's not perfect, you're making for better test takers, maybe more successful in life, maybe not, but it seems to skew in that direction. Not perfect but better.

Dr. David Garcia: I'll give you a good example. If we really want to be innovative in Arizona and we don't want teachers to teach to the test, let's have a performance system that's focused on something other than tests. There would be an innovative approach to thinking about performance based funding if we all recognize the test is not perfect, there are better ways, we should try to figure out what they are.

Ted Simons: Does that make sense to you? Can there be different ways to assess a student or school's improvement?

Dale Frost: Certainly can. This proposal is developed with the task force under the Arizona ready council and we had that conversation. Should we amend the A through F system to include more measures? The school community at that time basically said we're going to be moving to a better assessment. Let's Mott move the goal posts right now. That's already happening somewhat. We're awaiting graduation rates more because of our No Child Left Behind waiver. That's already happened.

Ted Simons: critics will say what you're doing now is rewarding schools that are already succeeding and the schools that are knot doing well should be a focus as opposed to being threatened with not receiving as much funding as they otherwise would have. How do you respond to that?

Dale Frost: The first part is to keep a sense of perspective. Next year any school worst case scenario will have 99.7% of their funding. It's only one-third of 1% at risk. More new dollars and the winners win more than the losers lose, there's a scenario every district improves a small amount, every district would get more money under this proposal. It's more about competing against yourself than your neighbors.

Ted Simons: Is that how you see that, competing against yourselves?

Dr. David Garcia: Well, that's not how testing works. Especially in these systems you're always -- I can improve but if you improve more I can't catch up to you. Some of this is the governor's office mentions this is a game changer. At the ends of the day it's like Dale said less than a percent of money we're talking about here, and it also one thing that will happen with this is wealthier districts will get more money. Because the underlying A through F grade system is heavily skewed toward a district primary being a wealthier district. In many ways what this is doing is reinforcing the system we already have instead of doing something groundbreaking to change it in future.

Ted Simons: How do you respond to that? That said a lot.

Dale Frost: Well, the notion that this takes from poor districts and gives to wealthier districts is not true according to our analysis. A, we can't predict the future. But when you look the a all districts and compare it to poverty there's no significant correlation between the out coming of performance funding and poverty. That's because of the improvement side. We heavily weight improvement. If you get three to four time more money if you're a D district than an A district for the same improvement.

Ted Simons: if you start at a lower level, like job growth is a negative integer, almost any job growth looks monumental, the same could happen with improving schools?

Dr. David Garcia: Part of it is looking at data from to 11 to 12. Wealthiest districts in the first year would receive $ new money per student. Our most impoverished districts would receive 18$. Partly because the system does not weigh out in the way that I think it was intended. It does forth give that much benefit to improvement.

Ted Simons: some say poor school districts, lower achieving school districts; they are there not for lack of trying. They are just maybe nothing they can do to improve to the point where they can get an equal or at least fair amount of this money. Is that a valid criticism?

Dale Frost: We don't think so. Let me use an example. Hartford Encinas was the only D-school within Chandler unified school district. Chandler put a dynamic new principal in. That elementary school district had 98% of their students in poverty. That principal rallied her teachers together, they got parents on board, they looked at their school day and found reprioritized minutes toward math and reading skills. In one year that poor school went from a D to an A school. To say that poor schools can't improve, we don't think that's true. We're not saying they are not working hard but there are policies often in failing schools that are counterproductive to students.

Ted Simons: regardless of the situation improvement can be had.

Dr. David Garcia: Absolutely but remember this is a district level measure, not a school level measure. You can expect Chandler to move less than a point. The largest districts moved less than a point because they are so big. That's going to be a real challenge. This is a district level measure, not a school level measure.

Ted Simons: we have to stop it there. Great discusson. Thanks for joining us.

Dale Frost:Education Policy Advisor, Governor Brewer's Office; Dr. David Garcia:Associate Professor of Education, Arizona State University;

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