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More Money Would NOT Buy Us Better Schools

 

Q. Isn't the real problem that our society refuses to invest enough money in our schools to help them do all the things kids need them to do for them today?

 

No. It's a paradox, but the truth is, more money does NOT guarantee a better education. The quality of the use of the money is much more important than the total sum allocated for education, after a sensible amount for teacher pay and benefits, some support staff and administration, materials, utilities, and so on.

 

But the most important principle of economics -- the law of diminishing returns - is as active in the world of K-12 education as anywhere else. In fact, the more money we devote to education, the less satisfied we are becoming, as a nation.

 

The same paradox is true, say, of eating chocolate. When you eat just enough, it's great. But when you decide to eat 'way more than that, you get sick. That's what is happening to our educational systems: they are literally taking in too many "calories" in the form of revenues, and spending the excess on things that don't help the learning curve.

 

Of course, the unions and the politicians they bankroll will squawk that that isn't true, that what we need to fix the problems in our schools is a bigger taxpayer investment. That's what leaders of companies that - surprise! - sell products to the schools are trumpeting, too. But the facts simply say otherwise. Consider these points from the book, Education Myths by Jay Greene:

 

n       Over the past 60 years, spending per pupil in the United States has increased from $1,214 to $8,745 in 2002, adjusted for inflation. That's an astounding real increase of 800%.

 

n       According to 40 years of standardized testing in the National Assessment of Educational Progress, test scores and dropout rates remain unchanged, despite the immense increase in spending.

 

n       On the other hand, students in private schools have always done better than students in public schools, yet nowadays, private schools spend just over half as much, or in the case of Catholic Schools, less than half as much, as public schools do, per pupil. So much for the claim that more spending yields better results.

 

Greene is among those who have attacked the claims of education advocates such as author Jonathan Kozol and university educators David Berliner and Bruce Biddle, who contend that today's tougher-to-teach students demand more resources than the student body of yesteryear. Ironically, though, there is less poverty today than a generation ago, more home ownership, higher levels of parental educational attainment, and better health, including much lower child mortality.

 

As for more money being the answer, that's easily refuted by pointing to a couple of the high-profile, multi-billion dollar debacles that have taken place in our nation's schools - including the de-accreditation of the Kansas City schools after massive infusions of cash failed to improve student achievement, and the fact that the Washington, D.C., schools consistently spend close to the most in the nation on K-12 education but have close-to-the-worst academic results.

 

Greene and others contend that the education establishment has let self-interest blind itself to the facts and rely on spotty anecdotal evidence and amateurish, overemotional generalizations, instead of really crunching the numbers. In fact, Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom of the Manhattan Institute have demonstrated that in the 1990s, a good deal more money has gone to serve high-minority, high-poverty schools than schools with average and high incomes, and yet the race- and income-based achievement gap persists and, in some places, is widening.

 

If parents, taxpayers and educators could grasp this concept, we'd go a long way toward being in a position to work out a better solution which would do everybody's two favorite things: educate kids better, and for less money.

 

Homework: The go-to guy on school spending is Eric Hanushek of the Hoover Institution, part of Stanford University, whose career has been spent debunking the "money myth" about schooling. His research shows that the answer isn't more money for schools - it's being smarter about spending the generous educational resources that are already in place.

 

By Susan Darst Williams www.ShowandTellforParents.com Controversies 04 2008

 

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