“There’s no consistent relationship between school resources and school achievement,” Hoover Institution scholar Eric Hanushek testified Thursday in the Lobato v. State school funding case.
Hanushek, a nationally known researcher on the economics of education, is the key expert witness for the state as it seeks to counter the plaintiffs’ claim that Colorado’s school funding system doesn’t adequately meet the education requirements of the state constitution.
Questioned by Senior Assistant Attorney General Carey Markel, Hanushek added, “Money certainly matters; you can’t run a school without money.” But, he added, “How you spend money is more important than how much … In general, you can’t expect any large achievement gains without changing the way you spend.”
“There’s been no gain in student achievement simply by doing what we’ve been doing with more money.”
Hanushek has testified in nearly 20 states as an expert witness for state governments defending school funding lawsuits. Other points he made in testimony Thursday included:
Class size: It doesn’t have an impact on achievement beyond kindergarten.
Master’s degrees for teachers: “None of the best studies say graduate education has an effect.”
Teacher experience and quality: “After the first couple of years, there’s no impact of experience.” He also said student achievement could be improved significantly if the least-effective 5 to 8 percent of teachers were removed from classrooms and replaced merely with “average” teachers.
“Costing out” studies: “They’re basically political documents. … I think they’re all unreliable and invalid.” He said at another point, “I don’t believe it’s possible scientifically” to do a valid cost study of educational adequacy. Hanushek also maintained that court decisions requiring additional school funding in other states haven’t increased student achievement.
He discussed at length spending increases and test scores in New Jersey and Wyoming, both states where courts ordered increased school spending. His assertions were disputed in great detail by plaintiffs’ attorneys on cross-examination, including one of his slides, which read: “Wyoming is very similar to Colorado in population and schools.”
Hanushek also analyzed some Colorado education data and drew conclusions, including:
- “Very hopeful moves Colorado has made” include the Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids, the new accountability system and the educator effectiveness law.
- As with the nation, there’s no correlation between different spending levels and student achievement. And, “Nobody knows the cost of an adequate education in Colorado.”
- Colorado districts with higher percentages of at-risk students generally have higher per-pupil funding.
To improve Colorado schools, Hanushek said, the state needs to focus on student achievement, reward districts and teachers who are producing higher achievement, rely on local decision making, provide choice and have a good data system.
“It turns out Colorado is doing a lot of that already, or it’s moving in that direction,” he said. “Colorado does relatively well in the nation, but the nation doesn’t do well internationally” in comparisons of students achievement.
Hanushek’s testimony was part of the state’s attempt to counter views expressed by plaintiffs’ expert witnesses, including Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford, Henry Levin of Columbia, Bruce Baker of Rutgers and Justin Silverstein of Augenblick, Palaich and Associates. (Links above will take you to stories about each witness’ testimony.)
The three hours of aggressive cross-examination by plaintiffs’ lawyers Kenzo Kawanabe and David Hinojosa included several questions about conflicts between Hanushek’s research and that of other scholars. They also repeatedly challenged him on his central conclusion that more funding doesn’t drive achievement.
Kristin Waters also on the stand
To start the day’s testimony, Markel led Denver Public Schools principal Kristin Waters through a detailed history of her work at Bruce Randolph School, a school that won autonomy from district and union rules in its quest for reform, inspiring the Innovation Schools Act of 2008. Randolph is often cited as an example of promising school reform.
Markel repeatedly steered Waters, now principal of Denver’s South High School, back to questions about whether extra resources were available for Randolph’s transformation and whether additional resources are needed to increase student achievement.
Waters gave various versions of the answer “no,” saying such things as “I don’t believe it’s the money that makes the difference. … It’s more of a time challenge than it is a resource or a money challenge. … The money piece isn’t what’s going to solve the issue” of low achievement.
On cross-examination, plaintiffs’ lawyers worked to establish that Waters’ views are based on her urban and Denver experience and aren’t applicable to all schools.
Plaintiff-intervenors’ lawyer Marisa Bono asked if Waters agreed that innovation status is not a universal fix for schools, and Waters said, “That is my belief.”
Other cross-examination questions highlighted Bruce Randolph’s low CSAP and ACT scores, although Randolph has shown academic growth.
Highlights of the day
TONE: It was another testy day, and the longest of the trial to date.
QUOTE: “I promise that we won’t go through every article you’ve published,” said Markel to Hanushek, as she led him through 45 minutes of testimony about his resume and lengthy list of books and articles. Lawyers for both sides love to linger over the qualifications of their expert witnesses.
MANEUVERING: Expert witnesses speak at a fairly broad level, and lawyers on cross-exam ask about a lot of very detailed things that the witnesses don’t know. Kawanabe and Hinojosa played that game at length with Hanushek, and also were on the attack in other ways, occasionally interrupting his answers or demanding “yes or no” answers.
At one point, Kawanabe asked Hanushek about his fee, which the professor said was $375 an hour or “on the order of $50,000” for the Lobato case.
“Have you made more than a million dollars” on all the expert testimony for states, Kawanabe asked.
“I’ve never tried to sum that up,” Hanushek replied.
DOCUMENTS: Bruce Randolph, Waters’ former school, currently is accredited with an improvement plan. It does not meet the state’s academic achievement indicator, meets indicators for student growth and growth gaps and its students are “approaching” postsecondary and workforce readiness. Read the school’s three-year performance framework and its improvement plan.
UPCOMING: Friday’s witness list for the state is an interesting mix, including outspoken former education Commissioner Bill Moloney, Democratic State Board of Education member Angelika Schroeder and Nina Lopez, a former top Department of Education official who recently joined the Colorado Legacy Foundation.