$16K per student, no progress

When Wyoming decided to spend its natural gas bonanza on public schools in 2006, State Superintendent Jim McBride predicted:

“We probably will have the nation’s No. 1 graduation rate, maybe college attendance rate. We probably will have the highest NAEP scores.”

Spending soared to $16,000 per student with no rise in NAEP scores, writes Matthew Ladner on Jay Greene’s blog. Meanwhile, scores for Florida’s Hispanic students rose to  the Wyoming average.

New Jersey also spends $16,000 a year per student, writes Steven Malanga of the Manhattan Institute in the New York Post. As enrollment rose by 3 percent since 2001, staff hiring rose by 14 percent, about one new teacher for every two new students.  Increases in wages, health benefits and pension costs have outpaced inflation.

There’s been little educational payoff. Performance on national education-assessment tests has been a mixed bag. On crucial eighth-grade reading tests, for instance, the percentage of Jersey students scoring at or above proficient in 2009 was just 42 percent, up slightly from 38 percent in 2005.

Gov. Chris Christie wants to cut state aid to local schools to balance the budget without more tax hikes. School boards and unions say that will trigger drastic cuts. Christie says schools won’t have to make cuts if unions agree to a “one-year wage freeze and a moderate contribution toward health costs,” Malanga writes.

A teachers’ union local included a joke prayer calling for Christie’s death in its newsletter.  The state-level union apologized.

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  1. Even in Wyoming (of all places), nuttiness abounds.

  2. The 16k average for New Jersey is a bit deceptive. The per pupil cost in the high performing leafy suburbs of NYC is actually much lower, between 10k and 12k. The inflated figure comes from the extra funding Abbott school districts receive. Many of the inner city lower performing school districts receive extra funding via state aid. This funding was mandated via judicial decision some years ago. Many of the Abbott districts receive double the average expenditure of non-Abbott districts. There are been no measureable improvement in outcome for these school even with the econmic bonanza. The drop out rates remain the same. The test results remain unchanged.

  3. One cannot throw only money at the problem. It is far more complicated than that; however, money helps. The money must be used at the classroom level, for the students, in the form of extra help for teacher, fieldtrips, classroom supplies. Kids need “stuff” to use in their rooms, not to just sit there, but to be doing. It takes highly energized teachers to do the work. Teachers who are smart, savvy, healthy, and willing to try new things. And again, money helps.

  4. Well one can sure throw lots of money at the problem without anything in the way of solutions appearing. That being that case, I propose that it’s not the lack of money that’s the problem but the surfeit.

    You see, when there’s too much money flowing into public education, *that* becomes a pressing problem. If the money isn’t spent then quite clearly the budget for next year’s got to cut. But what to do with all that money?

    One excellent use for the money is to hire teachers even when the student population is dropping. This causes the union to purr like a kitten and that’s good, right?

    Another excellent use of the money is to hire lots of non-teaching professionals, both administrative and non-administrative. The unfathomable complexity of education is unmistakably demonstrated by mobs of assistant principals, assistant superintendents, curriculum coordinators and more exotic beasts like chief pedagogical officers and assistant superintendents in charge of safe, clean and healthy schools.

    Yes, too much money is definitely a challenge for public education but it’s a challenge that’s clearly welcomed and has been forcefully dealt with.

  5. It has been proven time and time again that throwing more money at schools will solve nothing in the long term (since the 1960’s, spending on education has increased by almost 3.5 times, adjusted for inflation), but student achievement has remained flat, and when you take into consideration the re-normalization of SAT scores, student achievement has actually fallen.

    Gee, I got it, lets spend even more money…

  6. Since the 1960’s, the ethnic makeup of the United States has changed substantially and the fraction of foreign-born has exploded. Unless the educational results are divided up by the various categories, the consequences of that spending cannot be properly understood.

  7. Since the 60s, the percentage of kids living in intact families with their biological parents has dropped drastically. The rise in divorces means that far more kids live with a single parent or with a parent and step-family. The explosion of illegitimacy means that far more kids (in urban areas, almost all) live with never-married mothers, very often poorly-educated and very young, with absent fathers. It is well-documented that divorce creates problems for kids and the pattern of multi-generational illegitimacy and problems it spawns, is downright toxic, in terms of preparing kids for success in school and in life. Schools can’t fix all social problems, but neither should they continue to pretend that all cultures are equally successful and desirable. The habits and behaviors that lead to success need to be explitly taught and enforced.

  8. It’s also important to note that for the great majority of people in the US incomes have declined substantially over the last forty years. In the 70’s the top CEO’s of corporations on average made 35X as much as their lowest paid employees. Now the average is 300X as much. Schools struggle to overcome the problems created by the lack of family resources. It can be done. I work in a high poverty (Title1) school, and my students do as well as those from middle class school. But it’s hard work and exhausting. I work 12 to 14 hour days plus weekends. I tutor kids after school and buy books and supplies out of my own meager salary. While the work is rewarding, I am looking at a bad case of burnout. I’m starting to ask myself why teachers are expected to close the gap all by themselves while fat cat CEO’s get million dollar bonuses.

    While intact families are important for children, the reality is that divorce and illegitimacy have leveled out or even declined over the last few years, so this is unlikely to be a factor in the lack of progress made in Wyoming schools since 2005.

  9. Ray said…..”It’s also important to note that for the great majority of people in the US incomes have declined substantially over the last forty years. In the 70’s the top CEO’s of corporations on average made 35X as much as their lowest paid employees. Now the average is 300X as much.”

    Even if your figures are accurate, just because CEO compensation has increased faster then wages for other workers, it doesn’t follow that US income has declined substantially.

    Try again, and I hope you don’t teach math.

  10. Richard Aubrey says:

    “Fat cat CEO” is a lib mantra. No thought is required.
    It’s supposed to be received as gospel, also without thought.
    Doesn’t work.

  11. Somehow, the same people who love to demonize businesses, CEOs, insurance companies, doctors etc. don’t seem to have a problem with professional football, baseball, basketball and other players, or entertainers (singers, actors etc), or media people (except conservatives). After all, rappers are such great cultural icons and Ted Turner is the largest individual landowner in the country and he gets special deals from the government.

  12. GoogleMaster says:

    “Since the 1960’s, the ethnic makeup of the United States has changed substantially and the fraction of foreign-born has exploded.”

    That’s a little disingenuous, don’t you think? In the 1960s and 1970s, the percentage of foreign-born was the lowest since the 1850s, according to a paper compiled from U.S. Census numbers:

    1960, percentage of foreign-born = 5.4
    1970, 4.7
    1890, a whopping 14.8
    1910, almost as high at 14.7

    But don’t let a few facts get in the way of your xenophobic picking and choosing of the numbers.

  13. Roger Sweeny says:


    If divorce and illegitimacy are a major factor in school success, one would expect that a constant level of divorce and illegitimacy would be associated with a constant level of school success–in other words, a lack of progress.

    If d and i were decreasing, one would expect progress, though with a lag. There’s a lot of time between birth and taking those state-wide (or nation-side) tests.

  14. Matthew Ladner says:

    I love coded statements like “the ethnic makeup of schools has changed.” Especially now that Florida’s Hispanics outscore or tie 31 statewide averages on NAEP’s 4th grade reading exam, and their African American students do the same for 11 states. Florida’s Free and Reduced lunch eligible kids also outscore a number of statewide averages for ALL STUDENTS.


    Does anyone doubt that there are single parent families among FRL eligible minority students in Florida? That they don’t have a high degree of residential mobility? That they don’t _________ (fill in the blank here with miscellaneous excuses)?

    Joel Klein said it best “People have said to me ‘Chancellor, we are never going to fix education in America until we fix poverty in America. Now I care about fixing poverty, but these people have it exactly backwards. We are never going to fix poverty in America until we fix education.”


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