Bailout billions won’t stimulate learning

The stimulus bill may include $70 billion to $100 billion for K-12 schools. “For comparison, after the radical expansion of federal education spending that came with No Child Left Behind, the feds now spend about $40 billion per year on K-12 education,” writes Greg Forster of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice on Pajamas Media. But it won’t improve education.

There have been literally hundreds of empirical studies examining whether educational outcomes are related to spending increases. This body of evidence has consistently found that spending more money bears no relationship with the results we get from schools. In fact, the total amount we spend per student has more than doubled in the past 40 years, after accounting for inflation, while educational outcomes are flat over the same period.

It won’t even stimulate the economy.

To spend money stimulating the economy, government has to get the money first, removing it from the economy through taxes and/or borrowing. And when you remove money from the economy, you lose the multiplier effects from whatever people would have done with that money if the government hadn’t taken it.

But aren’t we borrowing it all from the Chinese?

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  1. The trouble is, the money almost never gets spent on the right things – those that directly benefit the classroom teacher. Instead, some gets spent on paperwork (that, for instance, that reports on the SpecEd students, or earnestly accounts for the minorities progress/lack of progress), some ends up funding a position that TELLS the teacher how they should be teaching, some goes to expensive curriculum/training – seldom what the teacher wants, and – I don’t know – some disappears into that rathole called administrative.

    The few times that extra money helps, it’s use is directed by the TEACHER. For example, grants that are requested by the teacher. Right now, there is money to “infuse” literacy into the curriculum, which means that those who don’t teach language arts have to come up with ways to jam it into an already crowded curriculum.

    Any surprise that it doesn’t improve either Language Arts OR the subject that it is shoehorned into?

    Forgive me, I’m feeling particularly peevish about that aspect of education.

  2. Margo/Mom says:

    I believe it is Eric Hanushek who has done some work constructing models that account for success in schools. It is counterintuitive that money makes no difference–and it is only when $ are examined in combination with other factors (external accountability, internal autonomy, local control of budget within a context that determines equity externally) that increased $ for education makes a difference. By the way–the US nearly leads the world in per/pupil expenditure (behind Luxemberg). What is lacking is the ability in any meaningful way to direct $ in ways that respond to need. Funding streams are far from transparent, as the result of decades to centuries of trying to keep everyone happy (or least those who wield the most power), funding mechanisms are complex and even those programs intended to direct dollars directly to the schools/districts/students having the highest need typically are scatter-shot and benefit those with less need as well.

  3. Has ANYBODY stopped to think where this money is coming from? The printing presses are running 24/7, and with each fiat dollar printed, the money in your hand is worth less and less. Come on! Stop the bailouts already!!

  4. Never believe anything any conservative says about the economy.

  5. And beware all generalizations.

  6. Some interesting highlights about deflation from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis that were posted in 2003.

  7. Linda F – what studies are behind your statement that extra money improves outcomes when its use is directed by the teacher?
    My Bayesian priors are that your statement is plausible, as teachers are the ones who directly see the results or lack-thereof of what they do in the classroom, so they get better feedback than school administrators or politicians and good feedback is a good start for making good decisions. But I would like some stronger reason for believing the hypothesis.

    (Note, my belief about teachers is a belief based on averages; I am sure that there are a few teachers who are so hopeless that they should be carefully kept away from all students, and presumably some administrators who are wise and experienced enough to make better decisions than the average teacher, or at least the average new teacher.)

  8. Tracy:

    Back to Hanusheck again. He talks about “local knowledge,” which i think is what you are on to when you talk about teachers being the ones to see the results and are more in touch with the feedback. I think Senge would point out that one problem in organizations is that the results of actions are not immediately apparent (as when the 7th grade teachers inherit a cumulative reading deficit that may have initiated at first grade level and snowballed down the line–or a kid who could do really well on the mechanics of reading, but the lack of comprehension doesn’t really appear until content becomers more complex). I think this is why there is a need for balancing factors–internal decision-making with powerful external accountability. He suggests that there are some balancing needs with regard to finances and hiring that come into play that require external controls. If every school has total responsibility for hiring teachers, for instance, this tends to feed a pooling tendancy–better teachers going towards better schools. On the other hand, schools need to have some level of involvement in order to judge things like “fit.”

    His budget findings are similar. The amount of budget is best determined externally to avoid financial competition between schools (with winners and losers). Within that constraint, schools do better when they have the freedom to determine spending within that set budget.

  9. Margo/Mum, can you provide a link or a more detailed cite to Hanushek’s work?

  10. Tracy:

    Here’s a link to a very long interview with him from PBS: It also lists some of his works. I believe that he also has had a role in some of the studies done by Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)–their website includes a wealth of information about education internationally. He has also been published by the Center on Reinventing Public Education–which has also just published a couple of reports on reform in public school finance.

  11. I am a “vocational” instructor/trainer. I quit my job in the private sector (as a seminar instructor/project coordinator) to enter the public sector (as a community college instructor). After taking a 50% cut in pay, being thwarted at every step by the “academic faculty” (but mostly by the college administration) I was denied tenure (and it’s tenure or hit the road… my contract was not renewed after 5 years). In my “private sector life, I helped build a one man company (I was employee #5 when I started) into a company that sold for $40 million (and I made da** good money doing it). Working for the CC, I pushed eight new vocational classes through curriculum (still on the books), ran seven on-line learning classes, and procured over $60k in “free” money (grants & equipment donations). The academic faculty hated the “dirty fingernail bunch” (possibly because starting pay in the trades without a degree was $40k/yr, starting pay with a Masters degree in education is around $30k). The administration kept telling me how many english/history students they could put in my classroom .
    No.. we don’t need to throw more money at “education”. We first need to define “education” and what students/employees NEED to better themselves in the world (and since I can’t seem to get anyone interested in a technical/vocational college system.. it’s going to have to be private technical/vocational programs and union apprenticeships).

  12. Oh… (sorry)
    One more thing. Vocational education should start in K-12. Do you know how many high-school / CC students cannot read a tape-measure (I do). When I was growing up (many years back)… I remember using simple hand-tools in 7th grade, making a wooden box & a stool (really.. how expensive can this be for the school districts). By the end of high-school, I was making cabinets (hey….. I had a trade). Although I did not follow that path… I can still do my own carpentry AND know which end of a screwdriver to use (and I’m not kidding… some students don’t)!
    But…. since they have removed P.E (and even “recess”) from schools as too expensive (don’t even get me started about music)… I can’t see ANY programs where one uses their hands (as well as their minds I might add) being added.

  13. Hi Margo/Mum, I can’t see anything in that interview with Hanusheck about any research that indicates that teachers spending money improves outcomes. Am I missing something?

  14. Margo/Mom says:

    No–it is not in that interview, nor does he say that specifically. The article that I read, and referred to ideas from is:

    Hanushek, E. (2004, May). What if there are no ‘best practices’?. Scottish Journal of Political Economy, 51(2), 156-172. Retrieved January 19, 2009, doi:10.1111/j.0036-9292.2004.00300.x

    I don’t know if you are able to access this particular journal, but Hanushek has a large body of work, which is why I responded with the one link that was accessible and suggested some others. What Hanushek does say, is that it is the combination of local knowledge with other outside influences, interacting with inputs such as financial support, that, in the end, produce quality. This gives some support to the impression that locally obtained grants have a greater perception of (and likely a greater reality) of success than financial support that is implemented without access to local knowledge.

  15. Thanks Margo. Hanushek’s work is interesting, but I would really like to see some empirical studies of how effective in terms of educational outcomes teachers are at spending money, relative to other education professionals, before adjusting my Bayesian priors up from where they currently are.

  16. Thanks Margo. Hanushek’s work is interesting, but I would really like to see some empirical studies of how effective in terms of educational outcomes teachers are at spending money…

    Sorry, but I had to laugh at this.

    My classroom budget for the year is $200. This is actually up from the last district I worked in, where it was $100.

    I volunteer for a study that will actually get me some real money to spend to see if it improves the educational outcomes of my students.