Achievement and Education Spending

Jake Haulk of the Allegheny Institute offers some commentary on the much celebrated improvement in Pennsylvania test scores:

It is also quite interesting to note the year to year scoring pattern by age cohort. That is to say, how do third graders perform as they progress through fourth, fifth, and sixth grades, etc? The picture is decidedly mixed. For example, as third graders in 2006, 83 percent of students reached the proficient or better level in math but when they were 6th graders in 2009 only 76 percent tested as proficient-this after dipping to just 73 percent as 5th graders. Similarly, third graders in 2007 scored at 78 percent proficient in math but two years later as 5th graders the percentage had dropped to 73.6 percent. …

Finally, there is a lot of volatility in the scores with surprising declines and upticks from year to year suggesting a lack of consistency in preparing students for the tests. Or could it be that test developers are changing the tests?

What is truly distressing about the mixed PSSA results is the cost of achieving the very modest improvement that has occurred in most grades. Since the 2002-03 school year statewide average current expenditures (excludes capital outlays) per K-12 pupil have risen from $8,400 to over $12,000 in the 2008-09 school year. State provided funding for K-12 rose from $6.96 billion to $9.68 billion over the same period. Both measures show an increase of over 40 percent during a period when overall prices rose around 18 percent. Thus, education spending has risen 2.3 times faster than inflation-or said another way, inflation adjusted spending has increased by over 20 percent in six years. …

Once again the Governor and other public school advocates need to remember that academic achievement is not causally related to expenditures. During the 2007 school year, Pittsburgh Public Schools spent nearly $18,000 per pupil and had dismal district-wide PSSA results (56 percent advanced or proficient in math and 52 percent in reading). Meanwhile, both Upper St. Clair and Mt. Lebanon School Districts (two of Pennsylvania’s top performing districts) spent about $12,000 per pupil and had very good PSSA results with both districts over 90 percent in reading and over 89 percent in math.

And so it goes. Those who want to enrich the education establishment lobby for ever more spending. Those who want actual education improvement seek real reforms such as vouchers and school choice. Unfortunately, the spenders have more political clout. Too bad-the students and the state are the losers. So much for truly caring about the children. Spending arguments are just empty rhetoric to justify more money.