Evidently The New York Times‘ opinion staff considered the following claim so obviously true that no one bothered to fact check it: “[T]he nation’s politicians [have] neglected and underfunded education for years….”
Made by a Times producer and a freelance collaborator who created a video op-ed purporting to explain “America’s Great Teacher Resignation,” the message intended for readers was obvious: If only those reckless, self-seeking American pols would start spending seriously on the primary and secondary schools, instead of focusing so tightly on scoring “cheap political points vilifying teachers,” American education wouldn’t be such a disaster area.
But actually, the under-funding claim deserved some major fact-checking, because compelling evidence has just emerged that the relationship between educational spending and student performance is difficult to see at best. And it came largely from the U.S. Department of Education in data contained in the latest edition of its National Assessement of Educational Progress (NAEP) – a large-scale Congressionally mandated evaluation that’s issued periodically and dubbed “The Nation’s Report Card.”
As in a previous post, I looked at the NAEP’s state-level reports showing whose fourth and eighth graders were testing above and below the national averages in math and reading. The year I examined was 2019 – the final school year before the CCP Virus struck – to make sure the findings weren’t affected by abnormalities like pandemic closings. And I then compared these results with figures on state-level spending on K-12 education from the USAFacts.org website and the Edunomics Lab, a Georgetown University-based research center. I concentrated on the ten states that spent the most per student on these schools, and those that spent the least.
For starters, here are the ten biggest education spending states plus the District of Columbia and their latest annual median expenditures per student:
New York: $25.4K
District of Columba: $22.2K
New Jersey: $20,2K
New Hampshire: $18,6K
Rhode Island: $17,2K
And here are the ten lowest spenders. (Actually, there are 13 of them because of some ties.)
North Carolina: $10.2K
The spending disparities between the groups are pretty dramatic, with average annual median spending per student in those top states averaging $19, 100 and the counterpart for the group averaging just $9,400. So the latter’s outlays overall are less than half the former’s, a margin surely more than large enough to offset living costs differences. And the spread between the biggest and meagerest spending states (New York and Utah) are much greater: $25,400 versus $7,800, or more than 3.2 to one.
But the performance disparities are anything but dramatic. In fact, here are the widest:
>For eighth grade math, six of the eleven big-spending states recorded scores below the national average, versus nine of the 13 low-spending states.
>And in fourth grade reading, just four of the eleven big-spending states turned in below average scores, versus eight of the 13 low spenders.
But remember: These are groups of states that represent the extremes: States that best fit the description of “neglecting and under-funding education” and states that presumably are supporting students and teachers the most. Yet the performance metrics aren’t exactly like day and night.
And the differences in the two other grade and subject categories are positively infinitesimal where they even existed, and especially so given the spending gaps.
Specifically, in fourth grade math, six of the eleven big spenders generated scores below the national average, versus six of 13 of the meager spenders.
In eighth grade reading, five of the eleven big spending states scored below average versus seven of the 13 low spenders.
Also more than a little interesting: The biggest spending state, New York, registered below average scores in three of the four categories. The lowest spending state, Utah, turned in above average scores across the board.
The point here isn’t to oppose spending more money on the nation’s schools. Rather, it’s to emphasize – contrary to the narrative promoted by the Times video makers – that, as with happiness, money alone can’t buy educational effectiveness. In fact, maybe teachers themselves bear some responsibility for under-performing schools.