We all want more money. It is human nature to want more than you already have1. It is no different with school funding. As a principal, I wanted more of everything – more teachers, more facilities and more money. Not for any selfish reason, but to provide more for my staff and students. As a teacher, I wanted more resources and more teacher aide time. Like many teachers, my desire to provide more for my students often led me to dip into my own pocket to buy resources for them.
Yet, whether you are resourcing a school or an entire school system, it is essential to realise that increasing school funding means:
- Taking that funding away from other areas, and/or
- Increasing revenue, be it through taxes or school fees
With this in mind, it is reasonable to ask what difference does increasing school funding have on student results, before taking drastic action.
School funding is not consistently associated with international competitiveness. Australia currently invests less money in education than most other OECD countries2. Yet, some of the countries that spend less than us, such as Canada and Japan, achieve better results than we do3. Furthermore, many of the countries that spend more than we spend (e.g. Iceland, the United Kingdom, France and the United States) achieve lower results than we do. This does not paint a compelling picture for increasing how much we spend on education. Of course, there are some countries, such as Finland and Korea, who do better than we do and who also spend more money than we do. However, as there are comparable examples from both sides of the fence, you cannot conclude that spending more money will automatically equate to students doing better at school.
Nor is school funding consistently associated with differences between school systems. In Australia, Catholic schools receive an average of $10,000 per student4. This includes money from the federal government, money from the state government and money from school fees. Government schools receive an average of $11,100 per student – with the money coming from both the state and federal governments. Yet, despite having less money spent on them, students in the Catholic sector tend to do better than students in the government sector4. By contrast, independent schools (on average) receive more money per student than both other sectors ($13,700), and their students tend to outperform their peers in both the Catholic and the government sectors. The point here is that there are mixed results, with no clear link between expenditure on education and the results that students achieve.
Other research also shows mixed results. For example, Hanushek5 reviewed year eight TIMMS results and found no link at all between the results and the amount of money various countries poured into education. However, other researchers6 have found a small but favourable link between increasing educational expenditure and improvements in student results. Hattie’s review of 189 research papers on the topic7 supports the idea that, overall, more money has a positive but minimal impact on student results.
However, Hattie7 makes an additional point that is crucial to the topic. The relationship is not as simple as
more money = better results. The reality is that the impact that additional money has depends upon what that money is spent on. The impact of extra money was higher when the money was spent to bring about better teaching. This involves spending money to:
- Attract better teachers.
- Develop existing teachers.
- Support teachers with resources at the chalk–face.
- Retain our best teachers in the classroom.
In his report advocating for an increase in school funding, David Gonski4 admitted that higher levels of school funding, on their own, would do little unless it was coupled with other strategies, such as:
- Teachers having high expectations for every student
- Better teaching
- Focused leadership
- More autonomy coupled with more accountability for student results
Hattie’s synthesis of research7 supports the importance of high expectations, the take-up of proven teaching strategies and the adoption of leadership practices that focus on improving student results through helping teachers do their jobs more effectively. Hattie did not review research on school accountability per se; however, other research8 supports the idea.
At best, increasing school funding will have a modest impact on student results, and only if the money is spent wisely. Perhaps we should start by spending our existing money in the right way.
- Lawrence, P. & Nohria, N. (2002). Driven: How Human Nature Shapes Our Choices. Wiley. [↩]
- Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. (2011). Education At A Glance 2011. OECD. [↩]
- Lokan, J., Greenwood, L. & Cresswell, J. (2001). Fifteen-Up And Counting, Reading, Writing, Reasoning: How Literate Are Australia’s Students? The PISA 2000 Survey Of Students’ Reading, Mathematical And Scientific Literacy Skills. Australian Council for Educational Research, Camberwell, Victoria.; Thomson, S., De Bortoli, L., Nicholas, M., Hillman, K. & Buckley, S. (2011). Challenges For Australian Education: Results From PISA 2009. The PISA 2009 Assessment Of Students’ Reading, Mathematical And Scientific Literacy. Australian Council for Educational Research, Camberwell, Victoria. [↩]
- Gonski, D., Boston, K., Greiner, K., Lawrence, C., Scales, B. & Tannock, P. (2011). Review of Funding for Schooling—Final Report. Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. [↩]
- Hanushek, E. A. (2003). The Failure Of Input-Based Schooling Policies. The Economic Journal, 113(485), F64-F98. [↩]
- Hedges, L. V., Laine, R. D., & Greenwald, R. (1994). An exchange: Part I: Does Money Matter? A Meta-Analysis Of Studies Of The Effects Of Differential School Inputs On Student Outcomes. Educational Researcher, 23(3), 5–14. [↩]
- Hattie, John A. C. (2011). Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement. Routledge. London. [↩]
- Wossmann, L., Ludemann, E., Shutz, G. & West, M. (2007). School Accountability, Autonomy, Choice & the Equity of Student Achievement: International Evidence from PISA 2003. Education Working Paper No. 13. Directorate of Education, OECD. [↩]