It’s Not About the Money

The 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test, a two hour exam administered to about half a million 14 and 15 year-olds in 65 countries, ranked Americans 26th in math, 17th in reading and 21st in science (OECD, 2014b). The United States stood below average in math and close to average in reading and science. Although United States PISA scores were average to below, the nation invested 7.3% of GDP on education—compared to the 6.3% average of the other nations tested (OECD, 2014a). The exam sponsor observed that socioeconomic background accounted for about 15% of the performance variation of American students, and that disadvantaged students exhibited less engagement, drive and motivation. Despite a significant financial commitment to public education, American schools deliver lackluster performance that must be improved.

In February 2013, a Texas court decided that the state’s school finance system failed to provide adequate funding, failed to distribute funds equitably, and denied districts meaningful discretion to set tax rates. In response, Texas lawmakers voted to restore $3.4 million to schools and modified the state’s school accountability system reducing the number of state assessments required for graduation. The trial reopened in January 2014, to consider the impact of legislative changes (Smith, 2014). The court’s final decision was that, in spite of the legislature’s effort to restore lost revenue, the current system imposes an unconstitutional state property tax and is constitutionally inadequate, unsuitable, and inefficient (Koppel, 2014). Texas continues to search for the most effective way to fund public education.

A recent study used current Texas Education Agency (TEA) data to evaluate the relationship between school funding and academic achievement, attempting to isolate this relationship from the distorting influences of demographic indicators that have been shown to impact student performance (Lamers, 2014). Two TEA high school Campus Comparison Groups with greatly different demographics were analyzed. The results were mixed. A clear relationship between funding and achievement was not evident, but the result—particularly for the combination of the two comparison groups—suggests that factors other than funding have a greater influence on student outcomes than funding. This is consistent with the results of other studies on this topic (Branca, 2009; Bryant, 2010; Franklin, 2012; Niven, 2012; Rascoe, 2008; Zamarripa, 2009).

To date it has not been clearly established how much money would be required to ensure all students are college-ready or career-ready at high school graduation. Several studies suggest that internal factors, such as school culture and instructional strategies, have the greatest potential to improve student academic performance (Black & Wiliam, 1998; Marzano, 2010; Popham, 2006; Wormeli, 2006). Identifying programs and instructional strategies that can transform a school’s culture may hold the key to providing all students a quality education as measured by student outcomes.


Black, P., Wiliam, D. (1998). Inside the black box. Phi Delta Kappan, 80(2), 139.

Branca, A. B. (2009). Education finance trends in a no child left behind America: Implications of student performance on changed in pre-pupil spending. (Graduate Dissertation). Georgetown University, Washington DC: Georgetown University.

Bryant, A. C. (2010). Funding equity in Oklahoma public schools and its impact on student academic achievement on algebra I end of instruction tests. (Doctoral dissertation). Available from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. (UMI No. 3445873)

Franklin, T. (2012). Do resources matter? An analysis of instructional spending on college readiness indicators in Texas. (Doctoral dissertation). Available from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. (UMI No. 3548520)

Koppel, N. (2014). Texas judge rules state is underfunding public schools. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from

Lamers, J. P. (2014). The impact of instructional spending on college readiness. (Doctoral Dissertation). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses. . (UMI No. 3669428).

Marzano, R. J., (2010). Art & science of teaching/what teachers gain from deliberative practice. Educational Leadership. 68(4). 82-85.

Niven, J. S. (2012). The relationship of the Texas school foundation program equity to student performance and socioeconomic status. (Doctoral dissertation). Available from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. (UMI No. 3550578)

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. (2014a). Country note: Education at a glance 2013: United States. Retrieved from

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. (2014b). Country note: Programme for international student assessment (PISA) results from PISA 2012 United States, key findings. Retrieved from

Popham, W. (2006). Assessment for educational leaders. Boston, MA: Pearson.

Rascoe, C. (2008). An evaluation of direct instructional per pupil expenditures and the resulting TAKS score performance. (Doctoral dissertation). Available from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. (UMI No. 3350771)

Smith, M. (2014). Judge in Texas school finance case faces recusal hearing. The Texas Tribune. Retrieved from

Wormeli, R. (2006). Accountability: Teaching through assessment and feedback, not grading. American Secondary Education, 34, 3, 14-27.

Zamarripa, L. (2009). Factors affecting student achievement in mathematics in select Texas high schools. (Doctoral dissertation). Available from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. (UMI No. 3400331)

An Expanded Concept of Leadership

Today’s principals face the triple threat of high expectations, limited resources, and rigorous accountability. Their job is challenging and often discouraging. Waiting for legislation-based reform or the arrival of transformational policies from above won’t produce a better school. My experience as a teacher leader, campus administrator, and now curriculum dean has given me a new perspective: I believe good results will only come through improved instructional strategies and a new, expanded concept of leadership.

Principals must create and sustain a fresh culture of individual and collective effort in their pursuit of the objectives they share with their teachers. Traditional approaches won’t do the job. Principals and teachers must support each other in the pursuit of their objectives, share ownership of the problems they face, and revise their approach to solving them.

This won’t happen by accident—it will require vision, a vision that reflects the needs of the students, the school, the community, and the demands of society, and opens peoples’ eyes to a new and exciting future. A collaborative partnership must exist between administration and teachers. A thorough knowledge of current educational research is necessary but not sufficient for the development of this partnership. Trust and respect also play a major role. Teacher’s voices must be heard and their creativity and professional development must be encouraged in order to surmount today’s instructional challenges.

Common Ground

Professionals enjoy privileges because they can be trusted. It takes more than competence to earn trust—it takes virtue. In teaching, professional virtue has four dimensions: a commitment to exemplary practice, valued social ends, the practice itself, and the ethic of caring (Sergiovanni, 2006). The first step is the establishment of an exemplary common ground. In the midst of the complex, sometimes heated interactions we experience every day, administrators and teachers don’t always see eye to eye, but they must remain aware that they are on the same team. The principal has the leadership role in establishing this all-important teamwork.

Since our goal is to encourage teachers to accept change, institute new practice, and pursue campus goals, it’s important to appeal to the idealistic values that motivated them to choose teaching as a profession. Administrators should accept the premise that everyone who has earned teaching credentials did so because of their desire to help young people and to make the world a better place.

As pressure to meet higher expectations with fewer resources increases, educators must consider new instructional models. A single individual, however inspired, is not sufficient to get the job done. It requires expanded leadership, a team of leaders. Any of our teachers or anyone with the potential to influence them is a potential leader.


Steven Covey suggests voice is where our talent and passion overlap with what the world needs (1992). It drives us to make a positive contribution. Individuals must be respected and honored in order to find their voice. Respect and honor are powerful motivators. The best leaders look for opportunities to help individuals find their voice by respecting them, honoring them, and appealing to their talents, needs, passions, and consciences.

Teachers are more likely to become leaders on a campus in which the principal exemplifies quality leadership, is approachable, communicates effectively (both transmitting and receiving), and is encouraging and supportive. Teachers are a principal’s most essential resources and are more effective, more open to new ideas, and more likely to step into leadership roles when they sense that their efforts are appreciated and realize they are making a contribution.

A principal’s busy schedule can interfere with the important job of identifying and employing teacher talents, requirements, and enthusiasms. Although this takes time and effort it is worth the investment. One simple but effective technique is to ask teachers individually and as a group for input on important decisions. Teachers will be quick to support the campus vision if they contribute to that vision and know their contribution is appreciated.


During the last several decades much has been discovered about how people learn. Our knowledge continues to grow at a remarkable rate. Many competent experts have published excellent advice how to better meet the needs of every child. The challenge for educational leaders is to put that knowledge into practice.

The best schools allow teachers the latitude to adjust educational strategies to fit their style and personality. Teachers will appreciate being given the autonomy to deliver instruction in ways that make sense to them and that they consider essential to their success. Principals need to resist the temptation to dictate and micro-manage this process. While a principal must provide guidance and set goals, teachers must possess the latitude to make adjustments as they pursue these goals. This flexible approach serves two purposes. First, teachers will benefit by developing the ability to recognize a problem and find a solution. The best teachers learn from their mistakes and make adjustments. Second, teachers are more likely to try something new and creative in a less structured and less constrained environment. To illustrate, research suggests that assigning grades may be counterproductive and may actually hinder learning (Wormeli, 2006). Particularly to experienced teachers, this would be a highly controversial issue; however, any teacher is more likely to consider such an innovation if that teacher is working in a flexible environment that is not resistant to change.

Today’s schools must constantly evaluate their practices against measures of student achievement. Practices that enhance learning should be shared and replicated and ineffective practices must be changed. Monitoring and guiding teachers while encouraging different styles and implementation philosophies will improve student performance.


Authoritative leadership seldom leads to school improvement. Collaboration must become the norm. Successful schools exhibit a culture of cooperation and a vision of excellence. The culture acts as a compass steering people in a common direction. Increased teacher efficacy leads to high levels of commitment and ultimately the school becomes a true community in which principals spend less time intervening directly in the work of subordinates.

Collaboration takes many forms. Whether in formal settings such as faculty or department meetings or less formal settings such as conversations, the potential for school improvement exists and must be continuously nurtured. Collaboration at all levels can contribute to the development of a common vocabulary. Dialogue calibrates the meaning of words, and schools operate more efficiently when everyone speaks the same professional language. Collaboration can help identify specific strategies best suited to the needs of a campus. Every school is different; however, a collective effort is the best solution for creating effective interventions and tracking progress.

The principal has to set the stage for collaboration. Traditionally teachers have operated in isolation but that’s no longer the best option. Working together will not only produce improved academic performance, it will also establish a more satisfactory working environment for teachers and administrators.

Professional Development

Dramatic changes are occurring in education today and high quality professional development is mandatory if schools are to remain current. The problems in our schools are not the fault of today’s children or the result of a lack of qualified teachers. To solve these problems and continuously improve school effectiveness we must be willing to adjust classroom practices through professional development. The traditional emphasis on standards, improved high-stakes test scores, and teacher satisfaction at the expense of what occurs in the classroom is no longer sufficient.

A focus on accountability based on the results of high-stakes tests has distorted the goal of teaching. The extensive time and resources commonly devoted to professional development often lack purpose and efficiency. Rather than teaching to achieve high tests scores, teachers need to teach thinking. Professional development should concentrate on the proper use of formative assessment, standards-based grading, and improved professional practice. In a spirit of collaboration teachers should be encouraged to pursue their professional development. Every effort should be made to encourage our teachers to be learners, as a rule, teachers are the best learners and learners make the best teachers.

It will take courage to implement changes in assessment, grading, and professional practice. If these changes are to occur, educational leaders must be able to clearly articulate the importance of this shift from traditional models.

A Promising Future

Although school districts face many complex challenges, the future holds promise. Principals must look for innovative ways to improve their organization. They need to experiment and take risks. To ensure that reforms take place classroom teachers need to embrace leadership roles. This concept of expanded leadership will be a powerful tool in challenging and overcoming the status quo.

Principals and teachers can and must mutually support each other. Identifying common ground, giving teachers a voice, giving them the latitude to think creatively, encouraging collaboration, and encouraging their professional development are fundamental to creating the mutual trust and respect needed to build a culture that will overcome today’s instructional challenges.


Covey, S. R. (1992). Principle-centered leadership. New York: Free Press.

Sergiovanni, T. J. (2006). Rethinking leadership; A collection of articles. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Wormeli, R. (2006). Fair isn’t always equal: Assessing & grading in the differentiated classroom. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.

Patrick Lamers — Philosophy of Education

Public schools play a critical role in shaping our nation’s future. School leaders must have a clear understanding their personal vision in order to guide their organizations. The answers to several key questions form the foundation of my philosophy of educational leadership.

What is your vision of an educated person?

An educated person must be a responsible citizen. It is essential that our democratic heritage be passed on to every child. This can be achieved, in part, through an education experience that includes the study of history, literature, art, and science. Citizens must have the ability to collaborate effectively and understand and appreciate different points of view. They must possess the capacity to effectively solve problems and develop the desire to be a life-long learner.

How do our curricular decisions affect children?

Curricular decisions have the potential to impact the lives of students. Curriculum includes all of the experiences learners have as they pursue their formal education. Its purpose is to apply instructional strategies based on sound research that will meet the needs of all learners, foster teamwork and trust, and a devotion to the pursuit of excellence.

How do we create schools that nurture the potential of all students?

Creating an environment that nurtures the potential of all students requires vision and leadership. School leadership must develop and clearly articulate a vision that is sensitive to the needs of the community while anticipating future societal demands. A shared vision creates an ideal and unique image of what can be and gets people to see exciting possibilities for the future.

Leadership must look for innovative ways to improve the organization. It must experiment and take risks while at the same time actively involving all stakeholders in the process. Educational leaders should encourage teacher leaders to accept their role in ensuring that reforms take place in the classroom. This style of distributed leadership is a powerful tool in challenging the status quo.

In spite of the many challenges faced by public schools today the future is still bright and full of opportunity. I am certain that innovative ideas including advances in technology, improved instructional strategies, and creative initiatives will lead to continued improvement in the performance of our schools.