Progress in San Francisco

San Francisco public schools are improving, writes Lisa Snell in Reason. She credits school choice and Superintendent Arlene Ackerman‘s decision to let student funding — with more dollars for kids with greater needs — follow students.

San Francisco is one of a handful of public school districts across the nation that mimic an education market. In these districts, the money follows the children, parents have the right to choose their children’s public schools and leave underperforming schools, and school principals and communities have the right to spend their school budgets in ways that make their schools more desirable to parents.

Thanks to weighted funding, schools get more money for harder-to-educate students. Principals decide how to allocate funds.

In San Francisco the weighted student formula gives each school a foundation allocation that covers the cost of a principal’s salary and a clerk’s salary. The rest of each school’s budget is allocated on a per student basis. There is a base amount for the “average student,” with additional money assigned based on individual student characteristics: grade level, English language skills, socioeconomic status, and special education needs.

. . . The more students a school attracts, the bigger the school’s budget. So public schools in San Francisco now have an incentive to differentiate themselves from one another. Every parent can look through an online catalog of niche schools that include Chinese, Spanish, and Tagalog language immersion schools, college preparatory schools, performing arts schools that collaborate with an urban ballet and symphony, schools specializing in math and technology, traditional neighborhood schools, and a year-round school based on multiple-intelligence theory. Each San Francisco public school is unique. The number of students, the school hours, the teaching style, and the program choices vary from site to site.

Many low-scoring schools are improving and San Francisco Unified now scores well above-average compared to districts with similar demographics.

Some other districts are weighting student funds, an idea developed a generation ago in Edmonton, Alberta.

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  1. This is what conservatives should have been advocating all along instead of the NCLB nonsense.

  2. SuperSub says:

    Most of the “NCLB nonsense” was actually caused by poor implementation by the individual states.
    I like the idea of having the funding follow the students… but then this also triggers the concern that schools will not allow students to shift out of the “difficult” categories… the same thing we have seen with ESL programs.

  3. It’s too bad that white leftists have forced Ackerman to resign because she was too successful.

  4. Anthony, were you trying to link this article?

    Zzyx wrote:

    This is what conservatives should have been advocating all along instead of the NCLB nonsense.

    Since Ted Kennedy was one of the Senate sponsors of the bill, it can hardly be considered conservative legislation. Like Supersub already wrote, it’s a federal-level response to the blunting of all the state-level accountability schemes that have popped up over the years.

  5. Allen, not specifically. I was trying to link this article, which has some of the politics behind Ackerman’s resignation. The stuff about Ackerman is in the middle.

  6. Thanks, Anthony. Contrasting the two articles was especially entertaining. The careful tap-dancing around the issues of the Chronicles reporting compared to the in-your-face column from Matt Smith. He doesn’t care much for the Chronicle’s journalistic priorities either.

    One interesting item from the Matt Smith column is the reporting of the friction that’s been developing between supporters of the public education system – leftier elements of the political spectrum, in general – and urban blacks. I know that the nation’s first voucher program sprang largely from the discontent of Milwaukee’s poorer, black parents. Cleveland’s and Florida’s voucher programs were aimed at poor, mostly black, parents and are also opposed by, along with the teacher’s unions of course, leftier elements in those areas.