12/10/2014 05:17 pm ET Updated Feb 08, 2015

Understanding the Economics of School Reform

The Challenge of Funding Education and Achieving Results

A budget confrontation is brewing with Federal funding due to expire on December 11. Congress has yet to reach a deal, and the public does not want a repeat of last year's 16-day government shutdown. Even so, Congress could be heading in that direction if lawmakers do not reach an agreement on spending this week.

The challenge is not allowing partisan politics to impede the great work taking place in education. In 2013, I wrote a blog for the Huffington Post entitled "Countdown: Top 10 Education Issues I'm Following in 2013." The number two issue on that list (after College and Career Readiness) was School Funding. I asked the question -- will state and federal politicians put aside partisan differences and will district leaders have the courage to rethink budgets? I wondered if together we could take appropriate action so that investing in education innovation was not viewed as discretionary and balancing the budget is not placed on the backs of our children.

The funding issue has taken on even greater importance as school districts grapple with dwindling budgets across the country.

As the President of New Tech Network (NTN), an independent non-profit educational organization, I spend a lot of time dealing with questions like these in NTN's public schools.

  • How much does it cost to provide a quality education to our children?
  • How much are we willing to sacrifice to assure that students graduate with the skills needed to succeed in our global economy?
  • How much are we willing to invest in our teacher training and development?

According to economists, Greg J. Duncan of the School of Education at the University of California at Irvine, and Richard J. Murnane of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, in their recent book, Restoring Opportunity: The Crisis of Inequality and the Challenge for American Education, "It's not just more money. Or more choice. Or more tests. Or more organizational innovation. None of those options has succeeded because none has focused on improving instruction in high-poverty schools and developing a successful approach for students to master critical skills."

That's why it's critical we focus on equalizing education and providing all students -- whether they reside in rural, urban or suburban settings -- with the skills that prepare them for today's technological jobs.

It's human nature to want a quick fix. But true reform will take time. Are we willing to embark upon initiatives that might take six weeks, six months, even six years to realize full results? Initiatives such as Common Core took "X years" to go from idea to adoption to controversy?

There are exemplary educational organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation that fund specific educational programs and initiatives. Solving our overall funding challenges requires us to be creative.

Funding for economic reform begins with grassroots programs that target our political leaders and assure they understand that teaching our students deeper learning skills is paramount.

Skills such as:

1. Knowledge and Thinking
2. Written and Oral Communication
3. Collaboration
4. Agency

We don't want to balance budgets by subjecting our students to a "less than adequate" education. No one wins with that equation. Graduating students unable to succeed in today's STEM (science, technology engineering, math) economy doesn't help anyone. Reassessing priorities is paramount. Working together is a necessity.

This will take resolve, creativity and collaboration (many of the same skills we want our students to learn) to tackle today's funding challenges. And yes - this will take time to see the results of the initiatives to generate the desired outcomes.