School Reform on a Budget: Where to Invest First
By Matthew Lynch
A major mistake made by school reform groups is to table educational reform efforts because the expenditure does not fit into the school budget. If children are America’s most precious commodity and the focal point of the nation’s educational system, then the lack of funding is no excuse to forgo reform efforts. If we can’t commit money to our K-12 students, how can we expect them to rise above their circumstances?
The old business adage is that you have to spend money to make money – and that should be the mentality when looking at struggling schools or districts that need, sometimes costly, reform. By smartly investing the money, even just in a few key areas, schools will see a return on that reform investment in the way of more successful, higher achieving students. And really – school reform does not need to cost a fortune to make a difference.
In truth, many school reform efforts are cost-effective and can be implemented by resourceful educators. When there is a lack of money, reform is contingent upon the faith and commitment level of the faculty and staff. Money should not be wasted on model programs and unsubstantiated trends. Reform groups will have to work diligently and efficiently to implement the chosen reform efforts properly and effectively.
So where should the money go?
When school reform is needed and schools have limited resources, spending money on curriculum can be intimidating, but it is a vital place to put money because it makes a huge impact on student outcomes. The curriculum chosen will need to be a good fit for both teachers and students. Math and reading should be the first concern, because they are the building blocks for other subject areas, as well the most frequent measure of future success. Success in these two areas bode well for success in other subjects at all grade levels.
Teachers’ professional development is a key factor for successful school reform as well. When analyzing reform budgets, it is important to set aside money to hire teachers with the ability to create and teach in-service professional development programs. The ability to train the staff and educators internally will save the school money, and will give the teacher/expert a feeling of usefulness. For instance, a teacher with 30 years of experience and a demonstrated ability to obtain amazing results from her specific teaching strategies might create a professional development seminar to share her expertise.
This saves the school an enormous amount of money, and saves the administrator the trouble and cost of hiring a consultant. Another low-cost/no-cost option is to hire professors from neighboring colleges and universities to provide professional development services to your district as a form of community service or to fulfill requirements to obtain or maintain tenure.
In the end, schools operating with limited funds to support reform efforts will need to be both resourceful and creative in order to effect positive change. Forward thinking leaders, committed and imaginative teachers, and a supportive community can contribute to change that improves the educational experiences of our children.