Awarding Funding for Low Performance Encourages Failure
According to this Post-Dispatch article, only the worst-performing schools were eligible for recent School Improvement Grants awarded by the U.S. Department of Education. With grants ranging from $50,000 to $1.7 million per school, these funds are intended to help schools whose students’ proficiency in reading and math falls within the lowest 5 percent in the nation.
In Saint Louis, 21 schools will receive funds, with the requirement that they undergo drastic changes of administration, such as replacing half of the teaching staff. These funds, not to mention the thoughtful revamping of educational systems that are clearly not working, represent the possibility for positive change in the worst schools — but is it really likely to improve education? From the article:
But state education officials in Illinois warned districts that the more academically troubled schools would have a better shot at getting the grants. They plan to help schools work on reform plans to prepare for the 2012 grant competition.
That’s right, there will be ongoing competition to prove which school is the least competent, and hence the most deserving of improvement grants. It doesn’t take a high-quality education to see that this will provide an incentive for low-quality schools to encourage their students to languish until their test scores approach the fifth percentile.
This reminds me of a one of Lawrence Reed’s Seven Principles of Sound Public Policy: If you encourage something, you get more of it; if you discourage something, you get less of it. (Here’s a video of Reed delivering this as a speech at a Show-Me Institute event in 2006.)