More quality for the money

Times are tight for school budgets, which is one reason Fordham and others have dedicated new attention and energy to doing more with less. Being conscious of cost-effectiveness is about more than pinching pennies, however; it also enables schools to get the very best quality for the dollars they spend on services.

Nathan Levenson, managing director of the District Management Council and a former district superintendent in Massachusetts, highlights this in an interview today with StudentsFirst, talking specifically about special education and early intervention:

I like to simplify this topic, and assert that only three things really matter in early intervention -- reading, reading, and reading. The stats are clear -- reading is the gateway to all other learning. Children who struggle in reading are over-referred to special education and often never catch up. This is especially sad, since we have "cracked the code" on how to teach reading. The National Reading Panel and the What Works Clearing House spell it out. Some districts feel they don't have enough money to implement a best practice reading program, but our studies have shown that typically it costs 1/2 to 1/5 as much as the current mish-mash of elementary support programs. The obstacles aren't dollars, but focus, turf battles, silos, and other organizational self-imposed barriers.

The mentality that schools don't have enough resources ? despite marked increases in per-pupil spending over decades ? can lead to blaming every failure in education on a lack of resources. Levenson's experience as a superintendent puts the lie to this attitude. His community was able to deliver far better services to children by rooting out costly, ineffective practices and replacing them with improved solutions. The greatest barriers were not financial, but political.

The interview is well worth reading, and for more detail check out Nate's AEI paper on special education and his chapter in the Fordham-AEI book, Stretching the School Dollar: How Schools and Districts Can Save Money While Serving Students Best.

? Chris Tessone

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