Imagine going to a tire shop to get a new set of tires for your car. You pay for the tires and the installation up front, but when you come back to pick up the car, there are only three tires on it. You point out that this isn’t what you paid for, but the manager complains that you didn’t give him enough money to do the job right.
You tell him you want your money back, but he tells you it’s already been spent, to pay for the tires, the employees who did the work, the rent and utilities for the shop, and so on. And he points out that at some other shops, for the same amount of money you’d get only two tires, or maybe just one. So you should feel good about using ‘one of the best’ tire shops around. And all you have to do to get the job completed is come up with more money.
How much more? He’s not sure. Just… more.
This is basically how school funding works, right?
Outside the topsy-turvy world of education, we avoid this kind of problem in a simple, straightforward way: We pay for goods after we’ve received them, and pay for services after we’ve verified that they were done correctly.
Why shouldn’t schools work this way as well?
In a sense, they already do, at least to some extent. A school gets state adequacy funds only for the kids who show up, after they’ve shown up. The money shows up the following year. No kids, no funds.
So the problem here isn’t how the payments are made. The problem is what we’ve been buying with them.
What if we made one small change to this arrangement? What if, instead of paying schools for verifying attendance, we paid them for verifying achievement?
That is, what if we gave adequacy money to schools, not for each kid who showed up, but for each kid who demonstrated a required level of proficiency in math and reading? What if, instead of submitting attendance records, a school had to submit assessment scores? So, for example, if 40% of the kids in a school were at proficiency — which is about average for New Hampshire — the school would get 40% of the adequacy funds that were earmarked for it.
We’ve all heard the old expression that ‘you get what you pay for’. Normally, we use it to mean that if you pay for low quality, you get low quality. But where schools are concerned, it means something else. It means that if we pay for attendance, we’ll get attendance. If we want to get achievement, we’ll have to pay for that directly.
With that in mind, what if we used adequacy funds to purchase adequacy, in the same way we purchase other things — paying for the work after it’s done?
Do you think maybe we’d get more of it?