A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

Education Reforms and Students at Risk: A Review of the Current State of the Art - January 1994

School Resources

Over the past 30 years, various studies have documented huge expenditure disparities among districts and schools (Barton, Coley, and Goertz, 1991; Taylor and Piche, 1990; Sexton, 1961). The tax bases in poor areas are limited, and community members are often less able to donate time and resources to schools than community members in wealthier areas.

Sensing that school resources are related to student outcomes, parents attempt to place their children in resource-rich schools. Residents of low-income areas often complain that the educational opportunities offered by their local schools are inferior to the educational opportunities provided by schools in high-income communities:

I know they [students at an affluent school] have a lot more opportunity. They have, like, foreign language, science labs with microscopes....I never had anything like that. We had reading, writing, and arithmetic, and a little bit of music and art...[An affluent school nearby] has French and Spanish and orchestra and the whole thing (Brantlinger, 1985, p. 398).

Many teachers in poor schools supplement student texts and materials out of their own salaries. Yet there is little teachers can do about hazardous facilities. Visiting some of the poorest schools, Kozol (1991) describes horrendous conditions such as backed up sewage, collapsing roofs, shattered windows, faulty heating systems, and broken toilets. Depressing surroundings may stifle aspirations and increase alienation. As one young man in a dilapidated school says, "Don't tell students in this school about `the dream.' Go and look into a [broken] toilet here [at this school] if you would like to know what life is like for students in this city (p. 36)."

Administrators in high poverty areas may have difficulties developing long-term plans for schools because they can not predict the availability of resources. Promising programs may be terminated or never fully implemented due to fiscal instability. Studying a Navajo educational program, McCarty (1989) reports that the poverty of the area and the dependence on fluctuating federal monies led to instability in program staffing and limited success.

Do school resources make a difference? Contradicting anecdotal evidence that school resources make a difference, some researchers argue that, controlling for student background, school expenditures are not related to student performance. The findings of the well-known Coleman Report (N=569,000 students nationwide) suggest that family and peer influences, not school resources, are the important determinants of student performance (Coleman et al., 1966).

Similarly, Gastil (1972) argues that school inputs alone cannot explain regional differences in educational outcomes. Examining data on the relation of regional cultures to student performance, Gastil asserts that persistent, long-term cultural differences in the value placed on education may explain why the South tends to lag behind other regions in student performance.

Analyzing over 20 years of research on expenditure differences since the Coleman Report, Hanushek (1990) concludes that the accumulated evidence confirms there is no systematic relation between school resources (e.g., school administration, facilities, teacher education, teacher-student ratios) and educational outcomes.

Disputing these findings, other researchers point to new studies that indicate school resources do influence student performance. Describing a study conducted for the state of Texas involving more than 2.4 million students in 900 districts, Ferguson (1991) reports that school inputs predict students' scores on standardized reading and math tests. Better teacher literacy skills, smaller class sizes, and more years of teacher experience are correlated with better student test performance, controlling for family and community background factors (i.e., single-parent households, poverty, parental education, English as a second language, race, and other demographic variables). Similarly, other studies (with much smaller datasets) suggest a relation between various school inputs (principal effectiveness, time-on-task, teacher experience) and student performance (Biniaminov and Glasman, 1983; Eberts and Stone, 1988; Kiesling, 1984). Kiesling (1984) argues that earlier studies that show negative results for school effects on student outcomes may suffer from assignment bias (i.e., failing to control for the fact that underachievers may disproportionately receive certain types of specialized instruction), bad data, and other problems.

Do school resources influence student outcomes? To sum up the analyses above, research to date provides support for a qualified "yes." Comparisons of aggregated expenditure data do not provide evidence of a strong correlation between expenditures and outcomes; however, certain school resources, such as high quality staff, that obviously require funds seem linked to student achievement.

Equal funds versus equitable resources. To achieve equity in school inputs, some researchers argue that impoverished schools may need more funding than middle-class schools. Poor rural areas, for example, must spend more than metropolitan areas to provide equivalent educations (Green and Schneider, 1990). Teachers demand higher salaries to teach less wealthy, lower achieving students, thus impoverished schools, especially in rural areas, may have trouble attracting expert personnel (Capper, 1990; Levinson, 1988). The cost of instructional materials, building upkeep, and support services may also vary between regions. Children's needs may also vary between school sites, resulting in different resource requirements.

[ Chapter 3: School Environment] [Table of Contents] [ Chapter 4: Interaction of Risks and Resources]