“The federal approach to education reform has tended to focus on specific reform ideas—such as standards, accountability, or identification and equitable distribution of effective teachers—while ignoring the underlying district structural and budget context in which reforms must be implemented,” the authors wrote.
The emerging themes identified in the Bellwether study have implications for education policy and practice, particularly as greater attention is paid to how federal dollars are used to drive school reform at the elementary and secondary levels.
- Federal policy makers should not expect federal funds to generate school reform unless they are attached to clear reform requirements. Policy makers can combine stimulus and reform but must acknowledge the trade-offs, structure the funding accordingly, and communicate their priorities and goals clearly to recipients of funds.
- Competitive funding programs, such as Race to the Top, appear to be more effective in driving change than formula-driven programs, through which most education stimulus funds were distributed.
- Federal policies that prevent districts from using stimulus funds for practices known to be ineffective may be more effective than policies that encourage spending those funds on new school reform activities.
- Federal policies and spending should be crafted with the goal of helping districts make hard choices to address unsustainable cost structures rather than simply postpone the tough decisions.