Bruce Baker at Rutgers University is one of the most eminent scholars of school finance in the nation.

In this post, he remembers the days when states insisted upon rigorous research to understand funding equity and inequity.

That kind of research, on which he cut his teeth, died, and he knows why.

“These were the very types of analyses needed to inform state school finance polices and to advance the art and science of evaluating educational reforms for their potential to improve equity, productivity and efficiency. But these efforts largely disappeared over the next decade. More disconcerting, these efforts were replaced by far less rigorous, often purely speculative policy papers, free of any substantive empirical analysis and devoid of any conceptual frameworks.

“This shift was largely brought about under the leadership of Arne Duncan. Kevin Welner of the University of Colorado and I explained first in a report for the National Education Policy Center and subsequently in shorter form in the journal Educational Researcher, that Secretary Duncan had begun to give lip service to improving educational productivity and efficiency, but accompanied that lip service with wholly insufficient resources. Kevin Welner and I explained that:

“the materials provided on the Department’s website as guiding resources present poorly supported policy advisement. The materials listed and recommendations expressed within those materials repeatedly fail to provide substantive analyses of the cost effectiveness or efficiency of public schools, of practices within public schools, of broader policies pertaining to public schools, or of resource allocation strategies.” [ix]

“Among other issues, the materials provided on the web site failed to acknowledge even the existence of the relevant conceptual frameworks and rigorous empirical methods which had risen to prominence in state supported and federally documented research in the years prior.”

John King, then the state commissioner in New York, quickly followed Duncan’s lead. The top researchers sat in the audience while Duncan’s favorites presented misleading graphs.

Thus did the field die.