…and education results turn out to be wholly independent of each other—that is, spending more and more hasn’t produced better and better outcomes for our students—it hasn’t had any effect at all. It’s been a waste of our tax dollars. This is clearly indicated by Cato Institute‘s Andrew Coulson’s report State Education Trends: Academic Performance and Spending over the Past 40 Years. What Coulson found is illustrated by this statement early in the report:
The state-by-state results of this investigation are reported in the subsections that follow, but the overall picture can be summarized in a single value: 0.075. That is the correlation between the spending and academic performance changes of the past 40 years, for all 50 states.
At the risk of lecturing to the choir, correlations run from 0.0 to 1.0 with 1.0 being perfect correlation—every bit of the effect being looked into is, in some sense, “explained” by the correlates. 0.0 means that there is no correlation at all, there is no connection between the two correlates at all. In this case, 0.0 would mean there is no connection whatsoever between spending on education and educational outcomes. That correlation of 0.075 isn’t materially different from 0.0.
This graph should drive the point home:
Notice that: spending goes up and up and up, and employment (teachers and administrators) goes up and up. Enrollment—the number of students reached—stays flat. The performance of that static number of students…stays flat. As a nation (keep in mind, this is state-level spending; this study didn’t get to Federal spending, which would only add to the amounts wasted, for reasons that become obvious below), we’re spending more and more per student, we’re spending more and more per unit of student performance, and we’re not impacting that performance. This failure has been going on for nearly 45 years, too—more than two generations of kids. Our kids’ kids aren’t even benefitting from this government spending.
What was that about doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results?
Here are a couple of graphs for specific states, one relatively blue and one relatively red, that further illustrate the point:
Again, spending is up, and performance, now assessed by SAT scores, is unaffected.
Of course, there are naysayers about these results. New Mexico Voices for Children, for instance, had this to say:
The Cato report assumes that education money is spent the same way it was in the 1960s and ’70s. In fact, schools have been mandated to provide many more services—special education, after-school programs, computer sciences, etc—and today’s classrooms require much more technology than they did in the days of the mimeograph.
All true. And all with no effect on those reading, math, science, or SAT scores.
Others insist that, since the number of students taking the SAT has more than doubled in the last 25-30 years, those scores would, of course, flatten out. But this beef ignores the fact that Coulson provided such demographic adjustments (and others, based on race, socioeconomic status, and so on), and the results didn’t change.
The bottom line is that, at best, spending money (especially increasing amounts) on technology for tech’s sake, on after-school programs to provide extra time away from home for the kids, etc is a waste. Spending money on increasing numbers of personnel to run these programs, or to supervise the additional personnel, even on more teachers per “classroom” has no effect.
We need to get back to basics, and focus spending on these subjects: reading, writing, arithmetic—the classic three Rs—and add to the mix, throughout K-12, American history/civics and budgeting/finance/economics, and teach these only. Full stop.
Anything extra should come at the expense of the local community that wants the extra, not at the expense of other communities in a state, or in the nation.