Search results for: "Bruce baker"

Bruce Baker, an expert on school finance at Rutgers University, dissects a proposal for vouchers (“education savings accounts”) offered by the Manhattan Institute, a rightwing think tank. Writing for the National Education Policy Center, he concludes that the proposal was poorly thought out and loaded with negative consequences.

He wrote:

The Manhattan Institute’s report promotes Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) by demonstrating that taxpayer expense would fall if the program motivated families to move children from public schools funded by the state to private schools funded primarily by families. However, the report conveniently fails to note a large body of recent, rigorous research demonstrating that similar private school choice, or “voucher,” programs have had significant negative effects on student outcomes. In addition, the report overstates short-term reductions that local districts can achieve, and it sidesteps potential long-term harm to adequate funding for them. Thus, the report provides little or no useful guidance on the broader question of whether an ESA policy is desirable or would be good policy for New York State’s children or taxpayers.

Bruce Baker of Rutgers University is one of the nation’s foremost experts on school funding and spending. He reports here on the differences between charter schools and public schools. Back in the late 1980s, when the charter idea was first promoted, it’s advocates claimed that charters would be more accountable, would produce higher test scores, and would cost less. We now know—30 years later—that none of these promises were realized.

Baker writes:

Many of us are frequently bombarded with claims that district schools have a huge revenue and spending advantage over charter schools, and those claims are almost always cited to the same series of junk comparisons produced by the University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform. The authors of those reports would have everyone else believe that no other research has even been produced on the topic. Time and time again, the same authors have engaged in a circle of self-citation and reiteration of bogus findings from the same bogus and painfully amateur analyses – analyses that first and foremost fail to appropriately assign or attribute revenues allocated to the relevant children served, and second and equally problematic, fail to compare schools providing services of similar scope, to similar populations. I will provide a follow up post which explains the correct methods for making such comparisons. But first, what do real studies, performed by competent researchers find? 

 Baker (yeah… that’s me, so some self-citation here), Libby, and Wiley (2015), in a peer-reviewed article, find that in Houston, the average charter school spent about $424 less than predicted and NYC charter schools were spending $2,000 more than predicted given their population characteristics.[i] That is, using models to compare otherwise similar schools, spending gaps vary by context, with modest spending gaps disadvantaging charter schools in Houston, but with charters holding a significant spending advantage inNew York City

More recently, Knight and Toenjes (2020), in a study of Texas charter schools, found “after accounting for differences in accounting structures and cost factors, charter schools receive significantly more state and local funding compared to traditional public schools with similar structural characteristics and student demographics.”[ii]

In a study completed on behalf of the Maryland Department of Education, authors from the American Institutes for Research (AIR) found:[iii]

“in all districts except Frederick, the predicted expense is less than the actual charter expense, indicating that average spending would be less for these charter schools if they followed the spending patterns of traditional schools in their district.”

That is, when modeled by regression analysis, given a variety of student and school characteristics, charter schools were spending more than expected (meaning, more than otherwise similar TPS). 

Authors from AIR arrived at similar findings using similar methods in a study completed as part of the Getting Down to Facts project in California:[iv]

“The conditional analyses, accounting for student needs and grade configuration, show that average traditional and charter spending within our sample were not substantially different in 2014-15 and 2015-16. In 2016-17, Aspire schools were expected to spend $1,000 or more than traditional schools in both LAUSD and OUSD when controlling for student needs and grade configuration (Exhibit B). When special education spending was excluded, Aspire and Green Dot schools in Los Angeles spent more than otherwise similar traditional schools in Los Angeles.”

So, yes, the squishy bottom line in all of this is that it depends on the context, and also may depend on the charter operator within that context, depending on the types of children they serve as well as their access to supplemental resources. It is certainly NOT the case that charter schools are systematically shorted large amounts of funding compared to their district school counterparts serving otherwise similar populations in regular elementary, middle and secondary schools. The studies above include estimates of funding differentials in at least some of the same locations for which the University of Arkansas studies proclaim vast disparities. 

The authors of these studies have been informed more than once, with detailed explanation as to why their methods are wrong and their findings incorrect, and with reference to studies, like those above which actually apply relevant, appropriate and standard methods. Instead of making any attempts to provide more accurate methods, or simply cease reporting, these same authors have made more and more egregious errors (see their latest on special education funding) leading to similarly erroneous – politically convenient – conclusions. 

It’s either complete incompetence, or intentional deceit – or perhaps a little of both (see next post on correct methods for evaluating charter/district school – or any between school spending variations). 

Open the link to read the citations.


Bruce Baker is a school finance expert at Rutgers. For years, he has been concerned about the lack of transparency and accountability in the charter industry. In this post, he foresees the possibility or likelihood that recent Supreme Court decisions pave the way for charter schools to become religious schools and he suggests a model that would protect the charter concept from being corrupted.

He writes:

Charter schooling is at a critical juncture and the future of charter schooling across US states can take either of two vastly different paths. On the one hand, charter schooling could become increasingly private, more overtly religious, openly discriminatory and decreasingly transparent to voters, taxpayers and the general public.  On the other hand, charter schooling could be made more public and transparent and be shielded from religious intrusion and all that comes with it. We recommend a policy framework which advances the latter and protects against the former.

Maryland, he suggests, has a model for charters that other states should emulate.

Maryland provides one example which is sufficiently tight in this regard. Charter schools are authorized by, governed by and financed through their host county school districts. Further, while private management companies may be hired to “operate” the schools, employees of the schools are under county district contracts. That is, teachers and other certified staff in Maryland charter schools are public employees and themselves “state actors,” even when they work under the direction of a private management company. 

This model provides for increased public transparency, and at the same time, minimizes potential for religious intrusion on the charter sector. A truly public governing board (like the district board of education, appointed or elected) would not be able to exclude from management contracts, firms with religious ties or origins on that basis alone. But, given that instruction is provided by public employees and the school governed by public officials, the school would be bound by constitutional requirements regarding discrimination and the provision of religious curriculum (here, the establishment clause prohibits advancement or promotion of religion).

Two of the nation’s leading education experts ponder the implications of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Espinoza decision. Bruce D. Baker of Rutgers University is a school finance expert. Preston C. Green III of the University of Connecticut specializes in education law.

I confess that I was relieved that the Espinoza decision was limited in scope. I was afraid that the religious zealots on the Court might sweep away all barriers to public funding of religious schools. It did not. But Baker and Green persuade me that I was wrong, that Espinoza was another step towards breaking down the Wall of Separation between church and state and should be viewed with alarm.

I urge you to read their analysis of where we are going, how it involves not only vouchers but charter schools, and what states must do to protect public schools.


Nowthat Cory Booker is running for the Democratic nomination for president, expect to hear a Big Liesabout the transformation of the Newark’s hoops when Booker was Mayor.

This study by Bruce Baker and Mark Weber of Rutgers University is a useful antidote.

Most people, even educators, don’t pay close attention to school finance because the aid formulas get arcane quickly and the eyes glaze over. But nothing is more important to providing good schooling than having the resources to take care of students, teachers, and facilities. In the past two decades, many states have ignored equitable school funding and have chosen to offer “school choice” instead of paying teachers a living wage. As we learned from the widely circulated report of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a large number of states are spending less on their schools today than they did a decade ago. The states that have starved public schools of adequate funding are the same states that have provided choice. It’s a sort of “Let them eat cake” response when people don’t have bread.

Jan Resseger recently reviewed Bruce Baker’s book on school finance and found it to be important and accessible to lay readers. Baker writes clearly and he knows school finance.

Rutgers University school finance professor, Bruce Baker’s new book, Educational Inequality and School Finance: Why Money Matters for America’s Students, covers the basics—how school finance formulas are supposed to work to ensure that funding for schools is adequate, equitable, and stable.

Baker also carefully refutes some persistent myths—Eric Hanushek’s claim that money doesn’t really make a difference when it comes to raising student achievement, for example, and the contention that public schools’ expenditures have skyrocketed over the decades while achievement as measured by test scores has remained flat.

Baker does an excellent job of demonstrating that far more will be needed for our society appropriately to support school districts segregated not only by race, but also by poverty. The final sections of the book are a little technical. They explain the construction of a more equitable system that would drive enough funding to come closer to what is really needed in school districts serving concentrations of children in poverty.

Baker’s book is especially important for updating a discussion of basic school finance theory to account for today’s realities. He shows, for example, how the Great Recession undermined adequate and equitable funding of public schools despite that states had formulas in place that were supposed to have protected children and their teachers: “The sharp economic downturn following the collapse of the housing market in 2007-08, and persisting through about 2011, provided state and federal elected officials a pulpit from which to argue that our public school systems must learn how to do more with less… Meanwhile, governors on both sides of the aisle, facing tight budgets and the end of federal aid that had been distributed to temporarily plug state budget holes, ramped up their rhetoric for even deeper cuts to education spending… Notably, the attack on public school funding was driven largely by preferences for conservative tax policies at a time when state budgets experienced unprecedented drops in income and sales tax revenue.” (p. 4)

And for the first time in a school finance book, Baker explores the impact of two decades of charter school expansion on the funding of public schools. Although the conventional wisdom promoted by the corporate reformers has said that competition from independent charter school operators would introduce innovation and thereby stimulate academic improvement in public schools, not enough people have seriously considered the fiscal implications of slicing a fixed school funding pie into more pieces. Baker examines these fiscal implications of charter school expansion from many perspectives.

Charters are, first, one of those “false promises of cost-free solutions”: “The theory of action guiding these remedies and elixirs is that public, government-run schooling can be forced to operate more productively and efficiently if it can be reshaped and reformed to operate more like privately run, profit-driven corporations/businesses… Broadly, popular reforms have been built on the beliefs that the private sector is necessarily more efficient; that competition spurs innovation (and that there may be technological solutions to human capital costs); that data driven human capital policies can increase efficiency/productivity by improving the overall quality of the teacher workforce. One core element of such reform posits that US schools need market competition to spur innovation and that market competition should include government-operated schools, government-sanctioned (charter) privately operated schools, and private schools…. (T)here is little reason to believe that these magic elixirs will significantly change the productivity/efficiency equation or address issues of equity, adequacy, and equal opportunity.” (pp. 6-7)

Baker also speaks to the philosophical justification frequently offered to justify the rapid expansion of school choice—that justice can be defined by offering more choices for those who have few: “Liberty and equality are desirable policy outcomes. Thus, it would be convenient if policies simultaneously advanced both. But it’s never that simple. A large body of literature on political theory explains that liberty and equality are preferences that most often operate in tension with one another. While not mutually exclusive, they are certainly not one and the same. Preferences for and expansion of liberties often lead to greater inequality and division among members of society, whereas preferences for equality moderate those divisions. The only way expanded liberty can lead to greater equality is if available choices are substantively equal, conforming to a common set of societal standards. But if available choices are substantively equal, then why choose one over another. Systems of choice and competition rely on differentiation, inequality, and both winners and losers.” (p. 28)

Baker addresses Betsy DeVos’s contention that, “Choice in education is good politics because it’s good policy. It’s good policy because it comes from good parents who want better for their children. Families are on the front lines of this fight; let’s stand with them…This isn’t about school ‘systems.’ This is about individual students, parents, and families. Schools are at the service of students. Not the other way around.” Here is Baker’s answer: “The ‘money belongs to the child’ claim also falsely assumes that the only expenses associated with each individual’s education choices are the current annual expenses of educating that individual…. It ignores entirely marginal costs and economies of scale, foundational elements of origins of public institutions. We collect tax dollars and provide public goods and services because it allows us to do so at an efficient scale of operations… Public spending does not matter only to those using it here and now. These dollars don’t just belong to parents of children presently attending the schools, and the assets acquired with public funding… do not belong exclusively to those parents.” (p. 30)

Are charter schools more efficient at improving school achievement measured by test scores and are they fiscally efficient? “(A) close look at high-profile charters in New York City indicates that their success reflects their access to additional resources and a fairly traditional approach to leveraging them… For each of these major operators… the share of low-income (those who qualified for free or reduced-price lunch ), English language learners, and children with disabilities is lower than for district schools, in some cases quite substantially. On average, these schools are serving far less needy and thus less costly student populations than are the district schools.” Baker provides details of major New York City charter networks’ expenditure patterns; what he finds is that the best-funded allocate their instructional expenses in a similar way to traditional public schools: “Collectively, these figures tell a story of high-profile, well-funded CMOs in New York City leveraging their additional resources in three logical and rather traditional ways by hiring more staff per pupil… by paying their teachers more at any given level of experience and degree; and… by paying them more to work longer school hours, days, and years. In other words, they pay more people for more time.” He concludes: “Researchers, policy makers, pundits, pontificators, and even self-proclaimed thought leaders have yet to conjure some new ‘secret sauce’ or technological innovation that will greatly improve equity, adequacy, and efficiency. Human resources matter, and equitable and adequate financial resources are necessary for hiring and retaining the teachers and other school staff necessary to achieve equal educational opportunity for all children.” (pp. 68-79)

Resseger has more to say about Baker’s analysis of the inadequacy of charter schools as a means to promote equity or even innovation (unless that you think that strict discipline and harsh punishment is innovative).

Based on her incisive review, I am ordering Bruce Baker’s book now. I hope you will do the same.

The name of the game in education is money, and we can’t allow the Reformers to give us the Old Razzle-Dazzle to distract us from what matters most, the money to reduce class sizes, the money to pay teachers a professional salary, the money to have a robust arts program, the money to have up-to-date technology, the money to have a librarian, a school nurse, a social worker, and a psychologist. Money matters. Don’t be fooled into thinking that choice is a substitute!

Those who say that “money doesn’t matter” are always people who already have plenty of money. Bruce Baker explains why it does matter and why we must not be fooled anymore. Every child in this nation should get a good education and that requires money.

The National Education Policy Center interviewed Bruce Baker about his review of a much-ballyhooed study of the impact of market forces in the New Orleans schools.

The Education Research Alliance at Tulane University released a study last July declaring that the privatization of almost every school in New Orleans was a great success. That very day, Betsy DeVos gave $10 Million to ERA to become a federally-funded National Center on School Choice. The report was written by Douglas Harris and Matthew Larsen.

Bruce Baker, a researcher at Rutgers University, has studied charter schools, school funding and equity for years. He was commissioned by NPE to review the ERA study.

His conclusion: Harris and Larsen had minimized the importance of demographic changes following the hurricane and the enormous influx of new funding. These changes alone, he said, could have accounted for the effects in New Orleans documented by the ERA.

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.

Bruce Baker of Rutgers University shows in this post that the dream of cutting costs by replacing teachers with computers has been oversold and is a fantasy. It lures entrepreneurs and snake-oil salesmen into education but there is no evidence to support the claims.

Baker traces the latest iteration of the myth of cutting costs and achieving efficiency. Open the link to see the graph that promised huge savings:

“Modern edupreneurs and disrupters seem to have taken a narrow view of technological substitution and innovation, equating technology almost exclusively with laptop and tablet computers – screen time – as potential replacements for teachers – whether in the form of online schooling in its entirety, or on a course by course basis (unbundled schooling).[ii] For example, the often touted Rocketship model (a chain of charter schools), makes extensive use of learning lab time in which groups of 50 to 70 (or more) students work on laptops while supervised by uncertified “instructional lab specialists.”[iii] Fully online charter schools have expanded in many states often operated as for-profit entities.[iv] The overarching theme is that there must be some way to reduce the dependence on human resources to provide equal or better schooling, because human resources are an ongoing, inefficient expense.

“In 2011, on the invitation of New York State Commissioner of Education John King (later, replacement of Arne Duncan as U.S. Secretary of Education), Marguerite Roza, at the time a Senior Economic and Data Advisor to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,[v] presented the Productivity Curve illustration (Figure 11) at a research symposium of the New York State Board of Regents.[vi] Roza used her graph to assert that, for example, for $20,000 per pupil, tech-based learning systems could provide nearly 4x the bang for the buck as the status quo, and double the bang for the buck as merely investing in improved teacher effectiveness.

“The most significant shortcoming of this graph, however, was that it was entirely speculative[vii] (actually, totally made up! Fictional!) – a) not based on any actual empirical evidence that such affects could be or have anywhere been achieved, b) lacking any definition whatsoever as to what was meant by “tech-based learning systems” or “improve teacher effectiveness”, and c) lacking any information on the expenditures or costs which might be associated with either the status quo or the proposed innovations. That is, without any attention to the cost effectiveness frameworks I laid out in the previous chapter. The graph itself was then taken on the road by Commissioner King and used in his presentations to district superintendents throughout the state![viii]”

We now know from experience and evidence that fully online schools produce worse results with no savings in cost or efficiency (the cost savings are turned into profits for inferior education).

A very important post.

Bruce Baker writes here about the ingenious ways that charter schools extract money from their staff. The Gulen schools do it directly; Baker discovered that certain “no excuses” schools do it by requiring their teachers to enroll in the Relay “Graduate School of Education.”