Money for mediocrity

Money doesn’t buy academic excellence: Bridgehampton, a Long Island town, spends $45,090 per student at its 153-student K-12 school. Take away special education and construction costs, and the school still spends $24,593 per non-disabled student. Class size is tiny: The school employs one teacher for every 3.7 students; the largest class has 12 students. Yet test scores are unimpressive, writes Marcus Winters in a New York Post column. (Here’s New York’s school report card, which is a pdf file.)

Bridgehampton scored below the state average on both the elementary and middle-school English and math Regents Examinations in the 2001-02 school year. Its average scores on the math test were 623 at the elementary level and 709 at the middle school level, compared to the state average of 651 in elementary and 712 in middle-school math.

While rich people pay high property taxes in Bridgehampton, year-round residents with children in school are more diverse; about half are black and a third are poor enough to qualify for a subsidized lunch.

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  1. Richard Brandshaft says:

    Winters’s argument is a rephrase of an argument that often comes up when conservatives discuss schools. Someone says more money is a NECESSARY condition for improving schools. Conservatives counter by saying more money is not a SUFFICIENT condition. And conservatives accuse liberals of “fuzzy logic.” (The quotes are because people who say “fuzzy logic” are usually misusing the term.)

  2. It’s actually both ways. If students suffer due to badly maintained buildings, insufficient supplies, and very substandard teachers because that’s all the budget will allow, of course their education will improve with more money (provided it’s spent to solve the problems and not to line someone’s pocket.) You hit a point where performance improvement relative to increases in spending tops out, and after that, taxpayers are right to balk at spending more money. $45K per student seems a bit excessive to me, but as the writer points out, the townspeople can build a ladder to the moon if that’s what they want to do with their tax dollars.

  3. Thanks for the story, Joanne. I called Marcus Winters and he’s going to be on my program tomorrow morning to talk about this school district and the idea of more money=better learning.

    Just wanted to tell you again how much I appreciate your site and all the great stories you uncover.

  4. Robert Schwartz says:

    Has anybody tried to figure out whether money spent is an independent variable or whether it is a correlate and dependent variable of parental incomes, which is known to be a major determinant of student sucess?

  5. Peter Caress says:

    I know very little about education issues, but I would have thought that a NY school in which over half the students are black and a third get subsidized lunches would be far below average on test scores. Yet in Bridgehampton the scores are basically average. This may mean that small class sizes significantly improve the education of disadvantages kids.

    Bridgehampton is a perfect test case for small classroom sizes. It’d be enormously instructive to compare the test scores from Bridgehampton to other rural school districts which have similar demographics but which spend less money per pupil.

  6. Jack Tanner says:

    For $45K they could send the kids to private school and pocket the difference.

  7. Richard, I don’t care whether more money is a necessary or sufficient condition for better schools. Instead, when schools ask for more money, I counter with the following questions:

    1. What are you doing with the money I’m giving you now?

    2. Exactly how will the money you’re requesting improve the schools and, more importantly, how can we measure the improvement to see whether the money is working?

    3. How much is enough? Don’t just ask for more, give me a figure that you feel you’d be able to fulfill your mission.

    Until those questions are answered, the debate over public education funding won’t stop.

    As far as Bridgehampton, it’s true that the taxpayers there can do whatever they want with their money. However, if they are willingly spending over $24,000 per non-disabled student and not getting anything more than an average education for their money, then I suspect the used car dealer is the richest man in that town.