Teachers Digging Into Own Pockets to tune of $1.3 billion


Roughly half the amount that the nation's public school teachers are spending on educational products is being covered with their own money, a new nationwide survey shows.

All told, teachers spent about $3.2 billion on various types of supplies and materials during the 2012-13 academic year, according to the survey, released recently by the National School Supply and Equipment Association. Half that total amount, $1.6 billion, came out of educators' own pockets.

The per-teacher breakdown is as follows: The average educator forked out about $198 of their own money on instructional materials, $149 on school supplies, and $139 on other classroom materials, for a total of $485 last academic year, according to the survey.

In total, nearly all teachers—99.5 percent—reported digging into their own pockets to cover the costs on classroom supplies or materials, according to the association. The portion of teachers doing so appears to have risen over time.

The report, "The 2010 NSSEA Retail Market Awareness Study," was based on a survey of 308 K-12 teachers, conducted by Perry Research Professionals.

Choosing blindly

As we continue to explore areas of education reform currently under discussed, we wanted to bring this recently released study from the Brookings Institute's Brown Center on Education Policy, titled "Choosing Blindly: Instructional Materials, Teacher Effectiveness, and the Common Core", to your attention.

Students learn principally through interactions with people (teachers and peers) and instructional materials (textbooks, workbooks, instructional software, web-based content, homework, projects, quizzes, and tests). But education policymakers focus primarily on factors removed from those interactions, such as academic standards, teacher evaluation systems, and school accountability policies. It’s as if the medical profession worried about the administration of hospitals and patient insurance but paid no attention to the treatments that doctors give their patients.

There is strong evidence that the choice of instructional materials has large effects on student learning—effects that rival in size those that are associated with differences in teacher effectiveness. But whereas improving teacher quality through changes in the preparation and professional development of teachers and the human resources policies surrounding their employment is challenging, expensive, and time-consuming, making better choices among available instructional materials should be relatively easy, inexpensive, and quick.

Administrators are prevented from making better choices of instructional materials by the lack of evidence on the effectiveness of the materials currently in use. For example, the vast majority of elementary school mathematics curricula examined by the Institute of Education Sciences What Works Clearinghouse either have no studies of their effectiveness or have no studies that meet reasonable standards of evidence.

Not only is little information available on the effectiveness of most instructional materials, there is also very little systematic information on which materials are being used in which schools. In every state except one, it is impossible to find out what materials districts are currently using without contacting the districts one at a time to ask them. And the districts may not even know what materials they use if adoption decisions are made by individual schools. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), which has the mission of collecting and disseminating information related to education in the U.S., collects no information on the usage of particular instructional materials.

This scandalous lack of information will only become more troubling as two major policy initiatives—the Common Core standards and efforts to improve teacher effectiveness—are implemented. Publishers of instructional materials are lining up to declare the alignment of their materials with the Common Core standards using the most superficial of definitions. The Common Core standards will only have a chance of raising student achievement if they are implemented with high-quality materials, but there is currently no basis to measure the quality of materials. Efforts to improve teacher effectiveness will also fall short if they focus solely on the selection and retention of teachers and ignore the instructional tools that teachers are given to practice their craft.

The full report can be read here.

Charters spend more on admin, less on class

We observed that SB316 delayed, by 12 months, the requirement passed in the budget to rank schools based upon their classroom spending. As was noted at the time, this was an ill conceived, ill considered plan. As that plan now hits the slow track, research emerges that charter schools spend less in the classroom than traditional public schools.

One of the most frequent criticisms put to traditional public schools is that they waste money on administrative bloat, instead of channeling more funding where it belongs—the classroom. A much leaner and classroom-centered model, some say, can be found in charter schools, because of their relative freedom from stifling bureaucracy.

A new study, however, concludes that this hypothesis has it exactly wrong.

The study, released by the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education, at Teachers College, Columbia University, examines school spending in Michigan and concludes that charter schools spend more per-pupil on administration and less on instruction than traditional public schools, even when controlling for enrollment, student populations served, and other factors.

Researchers David Arsen, of Michigan State University, and Yongmei Ni, of the University of Utah, found that charters spend $774 more per pupil on administration, and $1,140 less on instruction, than do traditional publics. To come up with their estimates, the authors analyze the level and source of funding for charters and traditional publics, and how they spend money, breaking it out by function. They then use a statistical method known as regression analysis to control for factors that could skew their comparisons of spending on administration and instruction in various schools.

Of the extra $774 that charters devote to administration, $506 went to general administrative services, such as the costs of charter school boards, or the fees of the organizations managing the school.

While Arsen and Ni don't examine in depth the causes of charters' relatively low instructional spending, they speculate that a couple factors could be at work. An obvious one is that more than 80 percent of traditional public schools' spending goes to personnel costs, mostly salaries and benefits—which would presumably drive instructional costs up. Charters, on average, pay lower salaries for teachers with similiar credentials to those hired by traditional publics, and also employ a less experienced and less costly teaching force, the authors say, which would keep instructional costs down.

HEre's the paper in question for your review.

Is Administration Leaner in Charter Schools? Resource Allocation in Charter and Traditional Public Schools

The Teacher Evaluation Juggernaut

Ed Week has a piece on the problems new teacher evaluation systems are going to have on resources, and issue we have discussed before.

Teacher evaluation--with all its multiple facets, blind alleys, disputed data models, technocratic hype and roll-out problems-- is on every principal's mind these days. It would be great to think that principals in states with new evaluation plans are eager to begin this work, now having permission to sink more deeply into their roles as instructional guides, to have productive two-way professional conversations with their teachers, thinking together about improving instruction to reach specific goals.

But no. They're worried about another time suck and avalanche of paperwork on top of an already-ridiculous workload. And--you can't blame them. Being a good principal, like being a good teacher, is impossible. There is no way one single human being can cover all the bases, from keeping the buses running on time to staying abreast of the new math curriculum in grades K through 6. Besides, the new evaluation plans have huge problems embedded, beyond the make-work element.

It was the closing comment of this article that caught our attention

In the end, this will be another issue where outcomes are determined by cost-effectiveness. If it's too expensive for principals to fairly evaluate teachers' instructional efficacy, a cheaper strategy--relying more heavily on test data and technology--will be found. In fact, I'm guessing that any number of education publishers and non-profits are working on it right now.

that seems about right, and likely. However, we wouldn't underestimate the significant costs that test and technology based solutions are going to bring either. However you try to dice it, you arrive at the "unfunded mandate" problem. There's simply too much work, and not enough people or money to do it properly.

Corporate education reformers need to step up to the plate and fully fund their projects.

The Missing Link in School Reform

In trying to improve American public schools, educators, policymakers, and philanthropists are overselling the role of the highly skilled individual teacher and undervaluing the benefits that come from teacher collaborations that strengthen skills, competence, and a school’s overall social capital.

How to Reform Public Schools


  • Power of the Individual: Reform efforts are focused on improving the capabilities of the individual teacher.
  • Wisdom of the Outsider: Bring in outside experts—or even novices—to solve problems.
  • Principal as Instructional Leader: The principal is the leader of school instructional reform.


  • The Power of the Collective: The teaching staff is engaged in school reform collectively.
  • Reform from Within: Trust and meaningful communication among teachers are the bases of true reform efforts.
  • Principal as Protector: The principal supports teacher reform efforts through building external relations.

Here's the full article

The Missing Link in School Reform

OSBA Refutes Education Matters Report

A short while ago we brought to your attention a report by Ohio Education Matters that claimed their study revealed Ohio School Districts could save over $1 billion in non-instructional spending. At the time we thought that "Some of the extrapolations seem excessive".

It appears the Ohio School Board Association thought so too, and they commisioned a report to look at these findings.

On a related matter, our three organizations spoke out yesterday criticizing a recent study that claims schools are overlooking significant savings. An analysis prepared by Education Tax Policy Institute (ETPI) consultants refutes the report by Ohio Education Matters and the KnowledgeWorks Foundation claiming schools are leaving over $1 billion on the table because they are inefficient.

We commissioned the analysis by ETPI because we were skeptical of the validity of the “Benchmarking Ohioʼs School Districts: Identifying districts that get more for their money in non-instructional spending” report published by Ohio Education Matters, a subsidiary of KnowledgeWorks.

Here's their report

Analysis of Ohio Education Matters Benchmarking Report