Rich data key to school funding review

Insights Newsletter
9 October, 2015

Plans to overhaul the school funding system were rehashed by the Minister of Education at a recent secondary teachers' union conference. Details for the new model are scant but the Minister stated that school performance will be included as a factor in funding decisions. 

Although the news was met with some objections, as was the case when floated early last year, the current decile funding system has long been criticised. Perhaps, then, it is not such a bad idea that a review is once again on the table.

Whatever may come, interested parties need to have confidence that the new system is not worse than the system it seeks to replace. For one, the role and use of quality data to evaluate what works and why, should take centre-stage during this review.

From discussions with the Ministry, schools and sector agencies, there appears to be agreement that data is important, however the use of such data varies. A lot of information is being collected, but there is less evaluative evidence demonstrating how policies contribute to student outcomes.

Further, current measures of performance pit students against each other on national averages, but this information tells nothing of whether students are performing as well as they should, given their respective starting points. It is not yet clear how school performance will be determined in the new model but any approach should ensure that schools with more disadvantaged students are not further disadvantaged by imposing a system that does little to measure ‘progress’ in achievement.

Finally, the government should demonstrate the costs and benefits of diverse models for the distribution of funds, to determine the optimal levels of funding for each school. Does the Ministry know for example, the effectiveness of an additional dollar spent at different deciles?

As an education policy researcher I await with bated breath, as do others in the sector, for details of the funding review to emerge. At the minimum the review should build on data already available to help the sector make better decisions that will in fact contribute to improved student outcomes. 

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