Government Spending

"Investing" in Education


Obama is all about investment, so in this coming age of more and more federal education spending, the Heritage Foundation reminds us that spending on education doesn't equal an investment in much:

Many people believe that lack of funding is a problem in public educa­tion, but historical trends show that American spending on public educa­tion is at an all-time high. Between 1994 and 2004, average per-pupil expenditures in American public schools have increased by 23.5 percent (adjusted for inflation). Between 1984 and 2004, real expendi­tures per pupil increased by 49 percent. These increases follow the historical trend of ever-increasing real per-student expenditures in the nation's public schools. In fact, the per-pupil expen­ditures in 1970–1971 ($4,060) were less than half of per-pupil expenditures in 2005–2006 ($9,266) after adjusting for inflation…

A basic comparison of long-term spending trends with long-term measures of student academic achievement challenges the belief that spending is correlated with achievement….from 1970 to 2004…spending per pupil has more than doubled, reading scores [as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress] have remained relatively flat…..

Nor has all the increased spending done much to ensure more students actually get through the travails of American public education successfully:

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average freshman gradua­tion rate for American public schools has remained relatively flat over time. In 1990–1991, the average graduation rate was 73.7 percent. By 2004–2005, the rate had increased modestly to 74.7. How­ever, the most recent estimate for the 2005–2006 school year shows that the national freshman grad­uation rate has dipped to 73.4 percent…

A Reason magazine oldie from January 1994 by John Hood on how educational statistics are often skewed by interested parties to make "education investment" seem like a constant need.

NEXT: Congress at Its Finest

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  1. n 1990-1991, the average graduation rate was 73.7 percent. By 2004-2005, the rate had increased modestly to 74.7. How?ever, the most recent estimate for the 2005-2006 school year shows that the national freshman grad?uation rate has dipped to 73.4 percent

    These aren’t cherry picked years, are they? I’m willing to buy the premise – just looks a bit suspect.

  2. Over the last few decades, almost every industry has benefited from significant increases in worker productivity. These gains have allowed employers to pay better salaries; essentially, they’ve been paying more to get more. One of the major exceptions to this is education, where teacher productivity has remained flat. In other words, the number of students per teacher has stayed constant, and the quality of education provided by teachers has not improved. This is understandable on some level. After all, teachers use the same methods to teach today that they did 40 years ago. But the fact that they are still using the same techniques represents a failure to effectively implement technology in the classroom and to adapt innovative teaching practices.

    Basically, we have a situation where teachers are being paid significantly more in real terms to do the exact same job that they did 40 years ago. After all, even without gains in worker productivity, teachers still need to be paid a competitive salary. Of course, the education industry gets none of the benefits that come with paying competitive salaries. Teacher certification requirements prevent otherwise qualified candidates from pursuing careers in education. At the same time, tenure and seniority based pay mean that low quality teachers are protected from being fired and can expect their pay to steadily rise, no matter the quality of their teaching. Is anyone surprised that despite the immense amounts of money being poured into education, we haven’t seen significant improvements? And does anybody really think that the teacher’s unions are an impartial source when they claim that education needs more funding?

  3. “educational statistics are often skewed by interested parties to make “education investment” seem like a constant need”

    Tell me about it. I worked for ETS for a few years as an RA, and we did endless tweaking and skewing and “twisting the lens” on stats just so the numbers would match up to their particular justification for certain programs or policies. I worked in a center that made policy recommendations to the US Department of Education, right up there at the top, and we focused on achievement gap issues, so that should tell you something about how much manipulation was being done to stats.

    It was there I learned that statistics are to be viewed with a highly critical and skeptical eye. I did not realize how truly malleable numbers were until my tenure at ETS began.

  4. Max, I agree – partially.

    I am a teacher, a new one (less than three years in the classroom), after having worked in administration, PM and research for private, public, and non-profit companies (not all at the same time ;p ). I try to bring a perspective of “what do kids need to know in order to be functional outside of this microcosm they’ve been stuck in for so long” to my lessons. A fresh out of ed-college 21 year old can’t bring that to kids. All they can do is repeat the lessons they’ve learned over and over again to their students. Without an extra-classroom perspective, I wonder if one can be an effective teacher.

    Some of the troubles with this tired system of education we have come from questions about best practices for large group instruction, individualized education, assessment, and the irrational focus on getting every kid into college.

    I especially love the idea of “differential education.” I try very hard to be innovative and offer project based learning to my kids, but I have not yet found a way to cater to 126 different children’s interests, learning styles, level of self-discipline and abilities.

    And as far as merit pay is concerned, I don’t see it happening without sea change in our attitude towards education. The only way I will get a raise is by staying at the same district for over three years to get tenure, and finishing my master’s degree. That’s assuming another district will hire me, an alternate-route licensed teacher with thinly veiled scorn for teachers unions and an unfinished masters.

  5. Memo

    To: The Presidential Suit

    Dear Stupid Sir,


    not same as



    yrs trly

  6. …with thinly veiled scorn for teachers unions

    You’d better thicken that veil. The union thugs will hound you out of the business otherwise.

  7. A quarter of high schoolers don’t graduate!? That means there’s a huge population of adults neglected by mainstream education institutions that could benefit from learning. Do you guys know of any non-profits reaching out to them?

  8. In fact, the per-pupil expenditures in 1970-1971 ($4,060) were less than half of per-pupil expenditures in 2005-2006 ($9,266) after adjusting for inflation…

    I was sophomore in a public high school in ’70-’71. The proponents of ever increasing public expenditures on K-12 education have yet to convince me that a middle class public school student receives even a marginally better education than the one I received.

    Classroms were well equipped, extra curricular activities were ubiquitous. Thet teachers collected solid middle class incomes for eight months of work. Students could actually wear whatever clothing they desired and their parents would allow. Budweiser hats, halter tops and hot pants, political slogans, were all accceptable. Nobody gave a rat’s ass. Nobody smoked in the johns because outside student smoking area were provided. The two PCs (politically correct and personal computers) didnt exist yet somehow students managed to conquer calculus, foreign languages, advanced english courses, wood and auto shops, co-op classes (school credit for working a real job, wahoo!) etc.

    Oh yeah, school millage rates were lower leaving the parents with some extra cash.

  9. Do you guys know of any non-profits reaching out to them?

    The US Army?

  10. And as far as merit pay is concerned, I don’t see it happening without sea change in our attitude towards education.

    It will never happen. That my 1st grade teacher GF gets paid the same as a HS calculus teacher is stupid as hell. The GF is one hell of a teacher and she is probably the best hope of a possible decent life that the half of her students with the douche bag section 8 housed parents have, but she should not be paid the same as someone with a math degree. There is a shortage of HS math teacher, there is not a shortage of 1st grade teachers. But there are more non-science/non-math teachers in the union than science/math teachers so some sort of pay differential for hard to fill teaching positions is out.

  11. OTOH, whether or not they consider it to be an “investment”, Heritage appears to be perfectly fine with spending a lot more on defense.

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