by Howard Stephenson
Increased school funding for K-12 government schools nationwide has failed to produce improved test scores, according to the tenth edition of the Report Card on American Education: A State-By-State Analysis, 1980-2002, released by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The report reveals in unequivocal terms that money cannot buy improvement in America’s socialized educational system.
A key finding of the report shows there is no immediate correlation between conventional measures of education inputs, such as expenditures per pupil and teacher salaries, and educational outputs, such as average scores on standardized tests.
Considered a conservative group, ALEC is the nation’s largest bipartisan, individual membership organization of state legislators.
The report ranked Utah right in the middle of the fifty states at 25th. On key educational statistices, the Beehive state ranked 51st in spending per student, 48th in spending growth and 51st in pupil/teacher ratio.
According to the report, the amount spent per student has grown substantially over the past 20 years, from $4,810 in 1980-81, to $6,470 in 1990-91, and to $7,079 in 2000-1. This is an increase of $2,269 per student. Yet average SAT scores for all test-takers have declined since 1972. Moreover, on the 2002 NAEP reading test, fourth-graders nationwide improved by six points over the 2000 test but by only two points since the test was first administered in 1992. Test scores for eighth-graders flat-lined while those for twelfth-graders declined. The percentage of twelfth-graders that demonstrated basic reading skills dropped from 76% in 1998 to 74% in 2002.
The results of this tenth edition of the Report Card on American Education, based on information from more than 12 measures of public investment in education and student achievement, and illustrated by more than 31 tables and 2 figures, do not differ from those of previous editions.
The report states, “If anything, [these results] make a stronger case for the proposition that the past two-decade’s massive infusion of public dollars into K-12 education has done nothing to improve student performance as measured by nationally standardized tests. With public dollars becoming more precious, state lawmakers and members of Congress need to ask how they can continue to increase funding for educational policies that have failed demonstrably. The overwhelming evidence compels policy makers to finally realize that simply reducing classroom size, pumping more federal money into public schools, raising expenditures per pupil, hiring more school staff, and raising teacher salaries has yet to improve the education of our nation’s youth.”
“No one has found a more statistically reliable benchmark for student performance across state lines than nationally standardized tests – the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), the ACT Assessment Test (ACT), and the mathematics and reading tests administered by the congressionally-chartered National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The results of these tests prove this year, as before, that bigger school budgets do not correlate with higher student performance,” ALEC said.
Just as high public investment in schools has not correlated with higher student achievement, lower public investment, has not produced lower student test scores, ALEC said.
But ALEC also said there is reason for optimism. “These demographic changes, together with the crisis of shrinking public budgets, are forcing states to solve by innovation what they have not been able to accomplish by simply pouring more money into public schools. Since 1991, forty states and the District of Columbia have enacted charter school laws that enable individual public schools to customize their own curricula, recruit students, and set their own achievement standards. Although all of the results are not yet in, several studies suggest that charter schools are working, especially for the most ‘at-risk’ children. Other studies show that charter schools are even improving the performance of competing traditional public schools. Research is also beginning to demonstrate a link between student achievement and parents’ freedom to choose the school their children will attend. As in the case of charter schools, vouchers and other scholarships seem to enhance the productivity of competing public schools.”
ALEC said that more and more, lawmakers and educators are coming to recognize that parents of school-aged children are consumers of an educational product who, like all consumers, will demand, and deserve, the best instruction their tax dollars can buy. By introducing competition into public school systems by way of charter schools, tuition tax credits, and state tax policies that reward individual investment in education, these policy makers are affording parents alternatives to unproductive public schools. These policies are also winning the allegiance of those most marginalized by mediocre schools – the urban poor and parents of at-risk children.
Private Dollars to Public Education Doesn’t Make a Difference Either
Even when the richest people in America give hundreds of millions of dollars to “fix” the problems of public education, it appears they might as well have burned their money, for the good, or lack of good it has done. Walter Annenberg announced in 1993 that he would give $500 million to American public schools. Now, ten years and a half billion dollars plus $600 million in matching grants later, there are no measureable results of the spending. Chester Finn, President of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, which did a detailed study of the Annenberg Challenge said, “In sad fact, for all the improvement in his generosity has brought, he might as well have joined Ted Turner and poured his dollars into the sea.”
Now, as reported in a recent Forbes magazine article, another billionnaire has emerged willing to throw money at our public education system. Eli Broad, a 70 year-old has pledged hundreds of millions to train teachers and administrators in effective business methods. He also runs programs that teach new school board members how to govern big organizations.
I predict with complete confidence that Mr. Broad’s money will produce absolutely no significant, permanent improvements in public education. He and Mr. Annenberg would have done better to give their millions instead, to scholarships for underprivledged kids to escape their failing neighborhood public schools.
In 1983 the federal Department of Education issued a report entitled “A Nation at Risk” which declared that the American public education system was broken and that if a foreign power had imposed the system upon us, we would have considered it an act of war. A Forbes magazine article following the Nation at Risk report explained the reason America’s schools have failed. Peter Brimelow described the similarities between the Soviet agricultural system and America’s public education system: They are both socalized, the consumers have little control over what they get, and the systems fail to reward those who do the better job and get rid of those who do not. Brimelow pointed out that nothing short of a free market would fix either system. The Soviets learned from their mistakes, but we have not.
Proponents of higher school spending have had more than 20 years to prove their case but have failed to do so. Lawmakers should approve tuittion tax credits to harness the power of the marketplace, empowering parents and kids to obtain the best education possible.
Highlights of ALEC’s Report Card on American Education
- The pupil-to-teacher ratio has fallen nationwide 13.9% over the past 20 years, dropping from 18.8 pupils per teacher in 1980-81 to 16.2 in the 2000-01 school year.
- The amount spent per student has grown substantially over the past 20 years, from $4,810 in 1980-81, to $6,470 in 1990-91, and to $7,079 in 2000-01. This is an increase of $2,269 per student.
- Nationwide in 2000-01, public schools spent $333.8 billion to educate our children, and employed 2,919,018 teachers, along with 397,673 principals, supervisors, and other instructional staff.
- On the 2002 NAEP reading test, fourth-graders nationwide improved by six points over the 2000 test but by only two points since the test was first administered in 1992. Test scores for eighth-graders flat-lined while those for 12th-graders declined. The percentage of 12th-graders that demonstrated basic reading skills dropped from 76% in 1998 to 74% in 2002.
- In the 2000 NAEP mathematics test, 74% of public school eighth-graders scored below the proficiency level; 35% performed below the basic level.
- Average SAT scores for all test-takers have declined since 1972 by 1.8%.
- Between 1990-91 and 2000-01, the U.S. as a whole saw a 14.4% increase in student enrollment.