October 17, 2007

Reviewer says report’s serious shortcomings render it useless to guide policy

Contact: Bruce D. Baker, (785) 864-9844;
Teri Battaglieri, (517) 203-2940,

EAST LANSING, MI – A recent report from the Buckeye Institute argues that funding disparities in high-poverty Ohio schools are the fault of school districts, not the state. The report contends that districts have adequate funds but don’t allocate them properly to their high-poverty schools. A review of that report, however, finds no basis for the report’s central claim that district-level policies are responsible for continued spending and achievement gaps.

The Buckeye report, Shortchanging Disadvantaged Students: An analysis of intra-district spending patterns in Ohio, was reviewed for the Think Twice project by Professor Bruce D. Baker at the University of Kansas.

The Buckeye report contends that:

In his review, however, Baker finds that the Buckeye report never supports its basic interpretation of the problem. “The authors fail to validate their central thesis that the problem with Ohio school finance is a predominantly a within- rather than between-district problem and that the state system of allocating resources to districts is the most appropriate and equitable system to be used by districts allocating resources to schools,” Baker writes.

One problem with the report, he says, is its scant review of existing research. “The authors of the Buckeye report either ignore entirely or are simply unaware of a vast body of directly and indirectly relevant literature,” he writes.

The report’s contentions and conclusions are also severely weakened by other problems, according to Baker. It fails to take into account the way different grade levels may have different cost structures. Additionally, it makes analyses and comparisons on the basis of very small sample sizes, leading to distorted conclusions. And it appears to ignore evidence that the suggested solution, for a weighting system to be used in allocating funds, can in some instances “yield even less equitable financing than might exist if there were no weights at all.”

But the larger flaw, Baker says, is the paper’s simple assumption that school districts are already adequately funded. “The Buckeye authors have failed to make their case that sufficient resources have already been allocated across districts, in part because they have failed to conduct any detailed analysis of the margins of additional funding in higher-need districts.”

Ultimately the report “is built on the weakest of foundations,” he concludes. “It wrongly assumes that improving within-district disparity is the primary if not the sole remaining problem for the Ohio school finance system. Even more dubiously, it argues that remaining achievement gaps between high- and low-poverty children are mainly a function of within-district financial disparities.

“As such, high-poverty districts are asked by these authors to bear the burden of correcting those disparities at no additional state expense. The report’s weak methodology compounds it shortcomings. If taken seriously, the Buckeye Institute report will only misguide policymaking.”

A technical appendix to the new review by Baker further undermines the report’s claims. The appendix presents Baker’s analysis of Ohio data, demonstrating that the state’s funding approach provides only modest poverty-based support across districts. Contrary to the Buckeye report’s basic assumptions, Baker’s new analysis shows within-district equity and poverty supports to be no worse and no better than state efforts across districts.

Find the complete review by Bruce Baker as well as a link to the Buckeye report at:

About Think Twice

The Think Twice project provides the public, policy makers and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected think tank publications. It is a collaboration of the Education Policy Studies Laboratory at Arizona State University and the Education and the Public Interest Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder and is funded by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

The mission of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice is to identify, develop, support, publish and widely disseminate empirically sound research on education policy and practices designed to improve the quality of public education for all students within the Great Lakes Region. 

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