Where the money goes

“Inflation-adjusted federal per-pupil spending (part of the goal of which was to narrow achievement gaps) has nearly tripled” since the 1970s, but the gaps remain, writes Heritage’s Lindsey Burke on the Daily Signal.

Schools are employing more adults — especially more non-teachers — per student.

School funding declined in 2012 for the first time in 35 years, reports the Census Bureau. New York was the top spender, at $19,552 per pupil, while Utah spent only $6,206.

Study: Achievement doesn’t rise with spending

There’s no connection between education spending and student outcomes, according to State Education Trends over the past 40 years, an analysis by Cato’s Andrew Coulson.

cato institute study on school spending1

Spending has nearly tripled in inflation-adjusted dollars and the number of school employees has almost doubled since 1970. However, reading, math and science scores have been “stagnant” for 17-year-olds, writes Coulson. “In virtually every other field, productivity has risen over this period thanks to the adoption of countless technological advances — advances that, in many cases, would seem ideally suited to facilitating learning.”

Do vouchers help students succeed?

Vouchers don’t do much for students, argues Stephanie Simon on Politico. Voucher programs now cost $1 billion nationwide.

In Milwaukee, just 13 percent of voucher students scored proficient in math and 11 percent made the bar in reading this spring. That’s worse on both counts than students in the city’s public schools. In Cleveland, voucher students in most grades performed worse than their peers in public schools in math, though they did better in reading.

In New Orleans, voucher students who struggle academically haven’t advanced to grade-level work any faster over the past two years than students in the public schools, many of which are rated D or F, state data show.

Vouchers improve student outcomes, according to high-quality research studies, responds Adam Emerson in Education Gadfly.

Consider, for instance, the work of Patrick Wolf at the University of Arkansas, who has examined the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship and found that it led to improved reading achievement among participants while also increasing a student’s chance of graduating high school by 21 percentage points. Consider, too, that random-assignment studies of privately funded voucher programs in New YorkDayton and Charlotte found higher achievement levels on standardized tests or higher college-going rates, or both, particularly for black students. Other empirical studies led to findings that range from the positive competitive effects vouchers have on public schools to the heightened level of achievement that comes from greater accountability (this last comes from Milwaukee, where Simon noted that snapshot test scores of voucher students look poorly but where a longitudinal analysis of the voucher program reports more positive results).

But a single literature review from Greg Forster at the Friedman Foundation is perhaps most revealing: eleven of twelve random-assignment studies have showed improved academic outcomes of students who participated in voucher programs. The one study that didn’t found no visible impact on students one way or the other.

Research supports voucher benefits, agrees Rick Hess. He quotes himself, and eight others, in an Education Week commentary last year:

Among voucher programs, random-assignment studies generally find modest improvements in reading or math scores, or both. Achievement gains are typically small in each year, but cumulative over time. Graduation rates have been studied less often, but the available evidence indicates a substantial positive impact. None of these studies has found a negative impact. . . . Other research questions regarding voucher program participants have included student safety, parent satisfaction, racial integration, services for students with disabilities, and outcomes related to civic participation and values. Results from these studies are consistently positive.

That $1 billion for vouchers “amounts to less than one-fifth of one percent of K–12 spending,” Hess points out.  “We spend north of $600 billion a year on K–12 schooling in the U.S., including tens of billions on employee health care and retirement benefits.”

Where schoolwork is hard, kids get ‘smart’

For all those who loathed psychologist Peter Gray’s argument for self-directed learning in School is bad for kids, here’s cognitive scientist Dan Willingham’s paean to rigorous curriculum and hard work.

In The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way, Amanda Ripley tells the the education success stories of Finland, South Korea and Poland, Willingham writes. In all three countries, students engage ” from an early age, in rigorous work that poses significant cognitive challenge.”
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When schoolwork is challenging, students fail frequently, “so failure necessarily is seen as a normal part of the learning process, and as an opportunity for learning, not a cause of shame.”

South Koreans, Finns and Poles expect schoolwork to be hard, Ripley writes.

By contrast, Americans believe “learning is natural” and “should be easy,” Willingham writes. If a student has to try much harder than classmates, he’s a candidate for a disability diagnosis.

Our expectation that learning should be easy makes us fall for educational gimmicks, Willingham writes. “Can’t learn math? It’s because your learning style hasn’t been identified. Trouble with Spanish? This new app will make it fun and effortless.”

Ripley discounts explanations for U.S. students’ mediocre performance on the science and math portions of PISA. Willingham agrees:

Poverty is higher in the U.S. Not compared to Poland. And other countries with low poverty (e.g. Norway) don’t end up with well educated kids. The relevant statistic is how much worse poor kids do relative to rich kids within a country. The U.S fares poorly on this statistic.

The U.S. doesn’t spend enough money on education. Actually we outspend nearly everyone. . .

The US has lots of immigrants and they score low. Other countries do a better job of educating kids who do not speak the native language.

The kids in other countries who take PISA are the elite. Arguably true in Shanghai, but not Korea or Finland, both of which boast higher graduation rates than the US.

Why should we compare our kids to those of foreign countries? Willingham answers: “Because those other kids are showing what we could offer our own children, and are not.”

By the way, Gray panned Willingham’s book, Why Don’t Students Like School?

Independents lean right on education

Just one-third of independents report that President Obama has done an “excellent” or “good” job of handling education issues, reports the new EdNext-PEPG survey. On the role of teachers unions and support for school spending, “the views of independents hew closer to those of Republicans than of Democrats.”

Moreover, independents are more supportive than members of either party of expanding private school choice for disadvantaged students, the centerpiece of Governor Romney’s proposals for K–12 education reform.

Overall, however, 52 percent of independents say they lean Democratic, while just 40 percent lean Republican.

Seventy-one percent of Republicans report that the teachers unions have a generally negative effect on schools, as compared to just 29 percent of Democrats. Though independents come down in between, a majority of them (56 percent) agree with Republicans that unions have a negative effect.

Hispanics are more likely than whites or blacks to give high grades to public schools, the survey found.

While annual per-pupil expenditures run around $12,500, Hispanics, on average, estimate their cost at less than $5,000. Whites and African Americans estimate the costs to be more than $7,000.

The same goes for teacher salaries, which average about $56,000 a year. On average, Hispanics think teachers are paid little more than $25,000 a year; blacks, on average, think they are paid around $30,000 a year; and whites estimate salaries at $35,000.

All groups — but especially Hispanics — strongly support “proposals to condition teacher tenure on their students’ making adequate progress on state tests.”  Overall, the public backs using principals’ observations and students’ test-score improvement to evaluate teachers. 

How Americans would cut school budgets

If you had to balance a public school budget, would you lay off teachers, cut pay or raise taxes? Who’d go first if layoffs were essential? How Americans Would Slim Down Public Education reports on a Fordham survey.

If their own school district were facing a serious deficit, 48 percent said the best approach would be “to cut costs by dramatically changing how it does business,” rather than raise taxes or wait out the downturn. How?

Shrink the administration. A broad majority (69 percent) supports “reducing the number of district level administrators to the bare minimum” as a good way to save money because “it means cutting bureaucracy without hurting classrooms.”

Freeze salaries to save jobs. Nearly six in ten (58 percent) say freezing salaries for one year for all district employees is a good way to save money “because the district can avoid laying off people.”

If teachers must be laid off, base it on their effectiveness, not years of service. About three in four (74 percent) say that those with poor performance should be “laid off first and those with excellent performance protected”; only 18 percent would have “newcomers laid off first and veteran teachers protected.”

In addition, there was broad support for closing schools and merging districts, raising class sizes in non-core subjects such as art, music, and physical education and replacing expensive special ed programs.

However, respondents rejected shortening the school year and shrinking the non-teaching staff.

They split on charging fees for after-school sports and extracurricular activities, using blended learning (a mix of Internet and classroom instruction), and “virtual” schools.

Here’s part of the survey.

 

 

K-12 average is $10,499 per pupil

Public schools spent $10,499 per student in fiscal 2009, according to the Census Bureau. That was 2.3 percent more than the year before.  New York was the top spender at $18,126 per pupil, followed by the District of Columbia ($16,408) and New Jersey ($16,271).

For $18,126 per student — or even $10,499 per student — it should be possible to pay teachers fairly, buy books and supplies and heat the building.

Utah spent just $6,356, Idaho $7,092 and Arizona $7,813.

Public school systems received $590.9 billion in funding in 2009, up 1.5 percent from the prior year. States provided 46.7 percent, local sources 43.8 percent and the federal government 9.5 percent.

U.S. schools spend $10,259 per student

U.S. public schools spent $10,259 per student in 2007-08, according to a Census Bureau report. New York, topping the nation at $17,173 per student, spent roughly three times more than Utah, which spent only $5,765 per student.

The national average represented a 6.1 percent increase over the year before.

Other top spenders were New Jersey ($16,491), Alaska ($14,630), the District of Columbia ($14,594), Vermont ($14,300) and Connecticut ($13,848). After Utah, low spenders were Idaho ($6,931), Arizona ($7,608), Oklahoma ($7,685) and Tennessee ($7,739).

Instructional salaries made up 40.2 percent of school spending, the report found.

Louisiana had the highest percentage of public-school funding from the federal government at 16.8%, followed by Mississippi (16%) and South Dakota (15.2%). The lowest percentages were in New Jersey (3.9%), Connecticut (4.2%) and Massachusetts (5.1%).

Nationwide, 8.1 percent of school spending came from federal sources.

With many large Mormon families, Utah and Idaho have more students per taxpayer than other states, notes the Deseret News.

School districts cope through a number of methods, such as hiring uncertified employees to man their libraries, and relying on aides who receive on-the-job training. This year, at least eight districts will be cutting back on their instructional days, and in districts throughout the state, portable classrooms are used as a means of accommodating population surges and staving off building projects until funding is available.

And those large Mormon families don’t produce a lot of problem children. Uncertified library aides and portables are common in California, which spent $9,863 per student, 28th in the nation, according to the Census report.

Update: Charter schools do no better than district-run schools, says American Federation of Teachers leader Randi Weingarten. A reader writes: Five thousand years of Jewish history and we finally find a Jewish woman who boasts of paying retail.

New Jersey voters reject school budgets

In a bitter election with high voter turnout, New Jersey voters rejected school budgets in 260 of 479 districts, pushing back on spending and property taxes. The Star-Ledger reports:

In the proposed state budget he unveiled last month, Gov. Chris Christie slashed $820 million in aid to school districts and urged voters to defeat budgets if teachers in their schools did not agree to one-year wage freezes. The salvo ignited a heated debate with the state’s largest teachers union.

Christie said the cuts were necessary to help plug an $11 billion state budget gap.

In response to the drop in state funding, 80 percent of districts had hoped to raise taxes to prevent layoffs, program cuts or salary freezes.  The state teachers union said voters were rejecting property tax increases, not endorsing Christie’s call for salary freezes.

In towns where budgets failed, the local governing body will decide on a school spending plan.

Statewide, school spending increased by $1,0003 per student last year, an average of 8 percent, reports New Jersey’s education department.

Average per child comparative costs in K-12 districts rose to $13,601 during the 2008-09 school year, compared to $12,598 the prior year, and $11,939 in 2006-07.

New Jersey is one of the highest spending states, but the reliance on property taxes means that some districts spend a lot more than others.

Information please

Support for increasing school funding and teacher pay drops when people find out current levels of funding and pay are much higher than they assume, an Education Next survey finds. People also become less confident that spending more will improve education outcomes.

William G. Howell of the University of Chicago and Martin R. West of Brown University found the average per-pupil spending estimate from respondents to the 2008 Education Next/PEPG survey was $4,231, while average spending exceeded $10,000.  Respondents estimated teachers earn an average of $33,000; the real average is $47,000.

Less than 1 in 10 respondents knew that charter schools may neither charge tuition nor provide religious instruction.  

Forty-nine percent of conservatives and 36 percent of liberals who were not provided information supported charter schools. But when they were told that charter schools are tuition-free and secular, support dropped among conservatives by 6 percentage points and
increased among liberals by 11 percentage points. Indeed, when provided information, liberals were 4 percent more likely to support charter schools than were conservatives.

 Kind of weird.