Don’t Be Fooled: Money Does Matter In Education

Gov. Dennis Daugaard picked up on a popular meme this year when he talked about the relationship between education outcomes and funding. Pointing to relatively flat student achievement scores and increased state funding for education, he concluded that simply pumping more money into the system is not an acceptable solution.

Daugaard is not the first governor to state that conclusion in recent years, nor will he be the last, I’m willing to bet.

We’ve also heard the same sentiment voiced during debates on the funding of the Yankton School District. The argument goes that $2 million can be cut from the budget with no effect on education quality. In fact, it seems that some think cutting funds may actually improve education.

However, the body of research in the issue shows the opposite. Money does indeed matter. You can spend money foolishly, of course. But spending it on the right things does have a positive impact. These is, of course, still plenty of debate about what the “right things” are.

Rutgers University professor Bruce Baker recently wrote “Revisiting the Age-Old Question: Does Money Matter in Education?” The brief reviews the body of research on spending and educational quality.

Here is the executive summary of his findings:

This policy brief revisits the long and storied literature on whether money matters in providing a quality education. Increasingly, political rhetoric adheres to the unfounded certainty that money doesn’t make a difference in education, and that reduced funding is unlikely to harm educational quality. Such proclamations have even been used to justify large cuts to education budgets over the past few years. These positions, however, have little basis in the empirical research on the relationship between funding and school quality.

In the following brief, I discuss selected major studies on three specific topics; a) whether money in the aggregate matters; b) whether specific schooling resources that cost money matter; and c) whether substantive and sustained state school finance reforms matter. Regarding these three questions, I conclude:

  1. Does money matter? Yes. On average, aggregate measures of per-pupil spending are positively associated with improved or higher student outcomes. In some studies, the size of this effect is larger than in others and, in some cases, additional funding appears to matter more for some students than others. Clearly, there are other factors that may moderate the influence of funding on student outcomes, such as how that money is spent – in other words, money must be spent wisely to yield benefits. But, on balance, in direct tests of the relationship between financial resources and student outcomes, money matters.
  2. Do schooling resources that cost money matter? Yes. Schooling resources which cost money, including class size reduction or higher teacher salaries, are positively associated with student outcomes. Again, in some cases, those effects are larger than others and there is also variation by student population and other contextual variables. On the whole, however, the things that cost money benefit students, and there is scarce evidence that there are more cost-effective alternatives.
  3. Do state school finance reforms matter? Yes. Sustained improvements to the level and distribution of funding across local public school districts can lead to improvements in the level and distribution of student outcomes. While money alone may not be the answer, more equitable and adequate allocation of financial inputs to schooling provide a necessary underlying condition for improving the equity and adequacy of outcomes. The available evidence suggests that appropriate combinations of more adequate funding with more accountability for its use may be most promising.

While there may in fact be better and more efficient ways to leverage the education dollar toward improved student outcomes, we do know the following:

  • Many of the ways in which schools currently spend money do improve student outcomes.
  • When schools have more money, they have greater opportunity to spend productively. When they don’t, they can’t.
  • Arguments that across-the-board budget cuts will not hurt outcomes are completely unfounded.

In short, money matters, resources that cost money matter, and more equitable distribution of school funding can improve outcomes. Policymakers would be well-advised to rely on high-quality research to guide the critical choices they make regarding school finance.

Baker adds in his concluding thoughts:

Given the preponderance of evidence that resources do matter and that state school finance reforms can effect changes in student outcomes, it seems somewhat surprising that not only has doubt persisted, but the rhetoric of doubt seems to have escalated. In many cases, there is no longer just doubt, but rather direct assertions that: schools can do more than they are currently doing with less than they presently spend; the suggestion that money is not a necessary underlying condition for school improvement; and, in the most extreme cases, that cuts to funding might actually stimulate improvements that past funding increases have failed to accomplish.
To be blunt, money does matter. Schools and districts with more money clearly have greater ability to provide higher-quality, broader, and deeper educational opportunities to the children they serve. Furthermore, in the absence of money, or in the aftermath of deep cuts to existing funding, schools are unable to do many of the things they need to do in order to maintain quality educational opportunities. Without funding, efficiency tradeoffs and innovations being broadly endorsed are suspect. One cannot tradeoff spending money on class size reductions against  increasing teacher salaries to improve teacher quality if funding is not there for either – if class sizes are already large and teacher salaries non- competitive. While these are not the conditions faced by all districts, they are faced by many.
It is certainly reasonable to acknowledge that money, by itself, is not a comprehensive solution for improving school quality. Clearly, money can be spent poorly and have limited influence on school quality. Or, money can be spent well and have substantive positive influence. But money that’s not there can’t do either. The available evidence leaves little doubt: Sufficient financial resources are a necessary underlying condition for providing quality education.

Read the entire paper here. It is worth reading the entire document.

How Do We Get Workers To Jobs In The Great Plains?

How do we get workers to jobs in the Great Plains?

It’s a perplexing questions for economic development officials.

We have jobs available in this part of the world. What we are often lacking are the bodies to fill them.

The Press & Dakotan has reported on this subject on a couple of occasions lately, such as here and here.

Columbus, Neb., has faced this same issue for some time and has taken concrete efforts to get people to move to their community. One of the methods they have employed is recruitment trips to Northern Michigan. The region was selected because of its high unemployment and its similar culture to Nebraska.

K.C. Belitz, president of the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce, recently wrote for the Daily Yonder about why it is difficult to get unemployed people to move for new jobs. It’s an enlightening read.

These were skilled people, with talents that are highly sought-after in many places, including Columbus, Nebraska.  As a result of those visits and others, we have learned at least some of the reasons this dichotomy continues to exist in America: the split between tent cities of unemployed and jobs-gone-begging on the Great Plains.

I would offer a few recurring themes that we heard in small towns in northern Michigan, which you would likely hear in Ohio, Illinois, California, Nevada or other high-unemployment states.

Most often, because many of these folks have been unemployed for a long time they have expended virtually all their resources.  So, if you ask them to fund a move to Nebraska, you might as well ask them to fund a relocation to the moon. The money simply isn’t there.

The next challenge many of these families faced was owning a home in a market in which, well, the market no longer exists.  If they had managed to hold on to their house, they knew there was no way to sell it and they clearly could not afford just to leave it behind and start paying rent, much less a second mortgage. Job or no job, they weren’t going to leave their unsold, and unsellable, houses.

Columbus Days celebration in 2009. So, we have skilled people, desperate for a job in many places around the U.S. They aren’t lazy. They just can’t find a way to make the move. At the same time we have employers, desperate for skilled people, in many other places around the U.S., many in rural communities.

For the good of the nation and the good of those families, we need to work toward a solution.

We have suggested to our Congressman, Adrian Smith, (and anyone else who would listen) that somehow federal unemployment benefits could be structured to allow people to take “an advance” on their benefits to use for relocation to a place where they can find work. In this way, the government can stop paying unemployment benefits, an employer gets a needed employee to help keep jobs in our country, and most importantly, a family gets a steady full-time income to support itself.

Is Actress Jennifer Lawrence A Pirate? Seriously, Is She???

Look closely at that photo of Jennifer Lawrence and Academy president Tom Sherak announcing the Oscar nominations Tuesday morning.

Then, look at this photo:

Now, I ask you, is Jennifer Lawrence a pirate or not?

(That, or there was some really bad photoshopping on that leg perhaps?)

I’m not sure why that jumped out at me when looking at a photo in a newspaper this morning, but it did almost immediately. Maybe it’s because it appears that Jennifer has a fake leg.

Again, contrast (and in this photo I first spotted the discrepancy, it is really bad):

And compare:

Woman Arrested For Allegedly Killing Cat With Hammer

For those who were curious about what happened with the cat incident, here is a more complete report. It is also in the Press & Dakotan today.

A Yankton woman was arrested Monday after she allegedly pummeled a cat to death with a hammer.
Mary Thompson, 52, Yankton, was arrested Monday for killing or injuring an animal, which is a misdemeanor.
According to a police report, the manager of Canyon Ridge Apartments called police at 11:40 a.m. Monday and said she had witnessed Thompson killing a cat.
The manager said she had gone to visit Thompson about having two cats in her apartment. Tenants are allowed to have only one.
Thompson had previously told the manager she would be giving one of the cats away. Upon being told that both cats still resided in the apartment, the manager again told Thompson that another home would have to be found for one of them.
At that point, the manager told police, Thompson went to the kitchen, grabbed a small hammer and went to the couch where one of the cats was resting. She then allegedly grabbed the cat by the neck and began to strike it on the head with the hammer.
The manager said she began screaming and fled the apartment in fear because of what she had observed.
Another witness said he later saw Thompson holding what appeared to be a bag and leaving the apartment complex. A blanket was later found in a dumpster near the apartment.
According to a police report, Thompson admitted to police that she had killed the cat and disposed of it in the dumpster before being arrested.
Police chief Brian Paulsen said a search warrant was executed on the apartment Tuesday to see if the second cat was alive and to recover evidence.

Yankton Woman Strikes Cat With Hammer When Told She Has Too Many Felines

A woman is told she can only have one cat in her apartment.

Next thing you know, according to a witness, she has grabbed one of her cats and is bashing it in the head with a hammer.

This is what will appear in the paper tomorrow:

• A report was received at 11:40 a.m. Monday that, after a woman was told she could only have one cat at her residence in the 1700 block of Locust St., she was observed holding the cat and hitting it on the head with a hammer. The suspect was arrested for killing or injuring an animal.

I know you have many questions. Was the cat killed? Was this woman extremely distressed by the thought of having to get rid of one of her cats and just lost it? Does she have mental issues? What are the elements of being arrested for injuring or killing an animal, since putting an animal down for any number of reasons happens in this area with regularity?

I wish I had some answers for you, but the police department didn’t have much to offer today. The officer involved had gone home by the time I called, and his report on the incident was not complete.

More details will be forthcoming, I’m sure.

And, yes, for a brief moment, I considered calling this post, “Yankton Cat Gets Hammered.” Tasteless, I know, but in this business, black or gallows humor comes with the territory. I ask for your forgiveness, dear readers …

Fans Get Their 15 Seconds Of ‘Star Wars’ Fame

This is one of many fan-created scenes found in "Star Wars Uncut."

I don’t know about you, but I’ve found it rather painful to even sit through the trailer for the “Star Wars: Episode 1” in 3-D trailer. I haven’t watched that film since seeing it in the theater for good reason. The trailer running in theaters now just confirms it for me. Releasing it in 3-D then, makes it seem like that much more of a cash grab to my tastes.

However, this fan-sourced recreation of “Star Wars: Episode IV” is quite charming based on what I’ve watched so far. I’ve found that while “Star Wars” creator George Lucas has sometimes failed over the years, the fans who so love his sci-fi world often do not. They have brought a lot of wonderful things into existence (even if it is with limited production values).

That is certainly the case with “Star Wars Uncut: Director’s Cut.” I haven’t watched the whole thing yet, but it is easy to get sucked in by the genuine fan love and creativity of the project.

Instead of trying to explain the project myself, here is the description provided on Youtube:

In 2009, Casey Pugh asked thousands of Internet users to remake “Star Wars: A New Hope” into a fan film, 15 seconds at a time. Contributors were allowed to recreate scenes from Star Wars however they wanted. Within just a few months SWU grew into a wild success. The creativity that poured into the project was unimaginable.

SWU has been featured in documentaries, news features and conferences around the world for its unique appeal. In 2010 we won a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Creative Achievement In Interactive Media.

Finally, the crowd-sourced project has been stitched together and put online for your streaming pleasure. The “Director’s Cut” is a feature-length film that contains hand-picked scenes from the entire collection.

Here is the official site for the project.

From one amateur light saber wielder to another, thank you “Star Wars” fans!!!

‘I Thought Of Myself As A Robin Hood …’

Les Falco is one of tne of the stars of "The End." He was a Robin Hood, or was he?

I watched a really interesting documentary last night about gangsters from London’s East End.

“The End” had a simple format, consisting of interviews with a string of old self-proclaimed (and usually) proud gangsters.

If you lived on the East End in post-World War II England, you apparently didn’t have much choice but to get involved in some level of crime. Violence was a way of life. At least according to these geezers (and I mean that term in the British slang sense of a bloke or dude).

Some of these gents have found the Lord. I’m not going to lie, the movie slows down a bit when they start talking about all that. Luckily, they don’t dwell on it much. We want to hear the war stories, right? Not about finding the light!

If you enjoy big egos with entertaining stories, similar to listening to your uncles talk about the days of yore, then it’s a good way to spend 90 minutes.

One quote early on in the film really stuck with me. It’s honestly a bloody brilliant line delivered by Les Falco (pictured above), one of the aforementioned gangsters and the father of the twins who made the movie.

“I thought of myself as a Robin Hood. Everyone else thought I was a robbin’ bastard …”