State Educational Trends, spending versus results

According to the U.S. Department of Education, inflation adjusted total spending for a K12 education rose from $56,903 per pupil in 1972 to $164,426 per pupil in 2010. However, test results have not improved. Perhaps we need smarter spending rather than more spending. (On the graphs below, the vertical axis is percent change since 1972.)

Education trends national

The CATO Institute examined academic performance versus spending in each state in their Policy Report 746 (1Mb, 60 pages). More particularly, they compare performance on the SAT test versus state spending from 1972 through 2012. While there have been great increases in spending, performance of 17-year-olds has been stagnant.

CATO notes: “The first point worth making is that SAT scores are obviously not a comprehensive metric of educational outcomes. Numerous factors unmeasured by the SAT (e.g., character, grit, artistic skills, subject area knowledge) are of interest to families and are important to life quality and success. The question addressed here is only whether or not the things that the SAT does measure are also of general interest.

“Though the SAT is known chiefly as a college entrance exam, it measures reading comprehension and mathematical skills that are intrinsically useful and that schools take great pains to teach. Even the SAT’s more obscure vocabulary questions are revealing, because a person’s vocabulary and their overall comprehension are directly tied to the amount of reading they’ve done and the richness of the texts they’ve read. Since developing avid readers is a universal educational goal, this is useful information.”

CATO also offers an interactive summary page, here, which gives a very brief discussion of study methodology and allows you to quickly examine the data for each state. Here are the graphs for Arizona:

Arizona Education Trends

Arizona SAT trends

CATO concludes:
“America’s educational productivity appears to have collapsed, at least as measured by the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress test) and the SAT. That is remarkably unusual. 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. And yet, surrounded by this torrent of progress, education has remained anchored to the riverbed, watching the rest of the world rush past it.”

We often see newspaper articles lamenting that Arizona spends less per pupil than many other states. The results of this study show that simply throwing money at the problem is not the solution. I don’t think that “common core” is the answer either. Could the solution be as simple as getting back to basics without all the political correctness?


See also:
The dark side of Common Core Standards for education