Daugaard and I and everyone else agree that what matters most is not how much we spend on education but the results our kids and teachers achieve. (There is some minimum cost of doing business, and Rounds has pushed local districts too close to that line, but we can argue that elsewhere.) So whatever amount the Legislature has the courage and foresight to invest in our children, we need to figure out how best to spend that money.
One place to start: ask the kids. A huge study funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation finds school kids really do have a pretty good sense of which teachers are doing the job right.
Teachers whose students described them as skillful at maintaining classroom order, at focusing their instruction and at helping their charges learn from their mistakes are often the same teachers whose students learn the most in the course of a year, as measured by gains on standardized test scores, according to a progress report on the research [Sam Dillon, "What Works in the Classroom? Ask the Kids," New York Times, 2010.12.10].
One result that really stands out to me: kids who report that their teachers drill them a lot on standardized test exercises ended up not gaining as much on their state tests as other kids. That doesn't say that teaching to the test won't improve kids scores, but it does say that you can raise your kids scores even more by simply focusing on "the key concepts of literacy and mathematics."
So whatever money we get for our schools, this study suggests that we should spend less on test-prep books and special courses and more on great books and teachers.