Education Spending _ Where is the Bang for the Buck?

The media and the Internet are full of stories of parent unsatisfaction with the educational choices, or lack there of,  available to their children. It is also no secret that that American does not rank well with their counter parts in other countries.

Recently Michael Clements, writing for Political Realities, made his case for more competitiveness in our school system. here are some excerpts that caught my eye. The first has to do with the   American Legislative Exchange Council’s “Report Card on American Education”.

The Report Card opens with an account of a school lottery in New York City. In the story, 1,500 families showed up for a chance at one of 100 available spots in a Harlem charter school. One mother explained that if her daughter had been awarded one of the spots she and the girl would have had to make a two-hour one way trip on ferries, subways and busses to get to the school. The mother said it would have been worth it.

“The payoff would be getting her an education,” the mother said.

 How many parents out there can identify with this mother? I urge you to read all of Mr. Clements’ essay. For my purposes, I want to share his closing sentences:

All parents should have the right to take their children and their money to whichever school is best suited to meet their needs. What is at stake is much more than a car that doesn’t run or a clerk who is rude.

What is at stake is the very future of our country.

A compelling argument, is it not?  I very much agree with Mr. Clement that our education system could greatly benefit from more competition.

Kevin Hoffman, writing for the Washington Post, has another story that demonstrates the failure of our educational system as it is.  Here are some excerpts from Mr. Hoffmna’s article:

Last week, 40-year-old Ohio mother Kelley Williams-Bolar was released after serving nine days in jail on a felony conviction for tampering with records. Williams-Bolar’s offense? Lying about her address so her two daughters, zoned to the lousy Akron city schools, could attend better schools in the neighboring Copley-Fairlawn district.

Mr. Hoffman’s article, among other things, deals with issues of race and poverty in a thought-provoking way. Do give it a read. Here is how he rapped-up his article:


Like millions of parents hoping to do right by their kids, Kelley Williams-Bolar thought that schools were the answer. She didn’t have the luxury of waiting a generation while intellectuals argue about poverty or culture. She looked at her options, she looked at the law and she looked at her children. Then she made a choice.

What would you have done?

Both above stories point to the fact that the American educational system is broken. It is not even close to producing the results that parents so desperately want for their children. So what is the answer? President Obama in his recent State of the Union address stated that he plans to “invest” (spend) more money on education. Is that what you think is needed?

Andrew J. Coulson at Cato Liberty has some thoughts and statistics that might help you answer the question of whether or not more money for education is called for. Here is an excerpt and a chart that I think you will find interesting:

Give kids a better education and they’ll be more successful when they ultimately enter the workforce. Sounds plausible enough. And if you dig into the scholarly research you find that, lo and behold, it’s actually true. Nations that improve student achievement the most end up with faster economic growth.

But that leaves us with one important question: does higher government education spending raise academic achievement?

You may be wondering: ”What did we get for that huge increase in spending?” The answer is: a lot more public school employees. The next chart adds an extra trend line to the one above: the number of public school employees divided by the number of students enrolled. This ratio of staff to students has gone up by 70 percent since 1970, swelling the ranks of the public school employee unions to about 4.5 million people.

I was planning to dazzle you with my own analysis of this chart but the truth is Mr. Coulson does  it much better than I ever could. Here are his conclusions:

What can we conclude from the above charts? By calling for a big increase in government education spending as a way to boost the U.S. economy, the president is doubling down on a bet that has already been lost, repeatedly, by his predecessors. Love isn’t the only thing money can’t buy. It can’t buy you an improved public school system either. And by extension, higher government education spending won’t buy you a better economy.

If the president goes ahead with his plan to spend billions more on public schooling, he’ll be driving this country deeper into dept for no good reason at all… unless of course you consider swelling the ranks of the public school employee unions a good reason.

Clearly, repeating the same mistakes over and over again is not the answer In my humble opinion, we are going to have to wrench the power away from the federal government and move it closer to the people so that parents can be more involved in the policy making process as far as determining what it is exactly that we want from our schools. Then we have to decide who can best provide the services that we want. I suspect we will find that the private sector is best suited to supply most of we want.  What ever part is best filled by the public sector should be controlled at the local ans state level. I, personally, don’t see any role for the federal government. What is your opinion?

11 thoughts on “Education Spending _ Where is the Bang for the Buck?

  1. “In my humble opinion, we are going to have to wrench the power away from the federal government and move it closer to the people so that parents can be more involved in the policy making process as far as determining what it is exactly that we want from our schools.”

    I completely agree, Jim. As with everything related to government involvement, once something moves further away from the people, the lower the quality of that item is. In this case, we’re talking about education and I have to tell you that I firmly believe that the educational system today is far more broken than it even seems on appearance. I believe the stats and scores are artificially inflated by the Department of Education in order to keep the system operating as is. If Americans could actually prove that the DoE is failing to run the educational system properly, then a strong case of public opinion could be made to end the waste of money.

    Children are sponges… look at how much they pick up from tv shows, movies, or whatever else they spend their time with. How hard is it to understand that the school systems are turning kids off to learning by not offering them the ability to learn in an environment where true encouragement is given? What I mean is that with the DoE’s involvement, schools aree regulated to class sizes that make individualized learning impossible… kids have to wait for other kids to catch on before being allowed to advance to the next piece of material to learn. This alone causes kids minds to stagnate and their minds inevitably wander off. It creates boredom for the advanced kids while it becomes a joke to the kids who suddenly realize that they can work the system to slow down class in general.

    As I have mentioned somewhere along the way in our conversations, I will homeschool my children because I truly believe that it is in their best interests. I will obviously meet all subject matter requirements that are mandated by my local Board of Ed but it is my intention to not let the learning end everyday when they meet those required goals. We will continue on with whatever the learning inspires them to inquire about. Sadly, today kids’ education ends when they leave school and what they do learn while in school is pretty sparse… it’s no wonder that the increased spending has had little to no effect on scores.

    Great article with food for thought here!

    1. Q with B, thank you for your kind words and for sharing your thoughts on such an important subject. I commend you for taking on the challenge of home schooling your children. It’s a great responsibility; but who is more prepared to take on such a responsibility than a parent? Unfortunately, home schooling is not an option for many parents whose efforts to earn their daily bread leaves little time for anything else. I feel the only solution is to scrap what we have and create a systems whereby scools must compete for students. Parents deserve to have options.

      Best wishes to you. You have some lucky kids!

  2. First of all, thanks for linking to Michael’s post about school competition. It was an excellent piece of work.

    I think you have hit on a very important piece of the puzzle of why more government spending is not the answer to the problems in our education system. Instead of that money being spent on the students and their education, most of it seems to find it’s way to the coffers of the unions or administrators. If parents were given the opportunity to take their children and their money to the school of their choice, it is highly probable that a vast majority of the problems would correct themselves. The schools would have no choice to do so or would face closing.

  3. I think you are 100% right about wrenching the power away from the federal government in regards to education; they have no business in the education field as it is not specifically listed in the enumerated powers in the constitution. Education should be left up to the states and to the people.

  4. Great post.

    This point–increased ed. spending=/=increased student performance–cannot be made often enough.

  5. I traveled through my elementary and high school and college educations before the Carter NEA put its claws into the education system. At that time the local communities and the states ran the schools. The graduation rate was over 90 % with a curriculum that truly educated and prepared students for life.

    I wonder what our chances are of getting the NEA dismantled and the Feds out of our educations system. Slim to none?

    This is yet another example of a failed Federal busy-body policies in an effort to implement Socialism. So far they have succeeded in indoctrination, failing students, and a dysfunctional society. Thank you, progressives. You sure know how to ruin a good thing. And to think you want to take over our health care……oh, goody.

    Nice post, Jim. But really, what are the chances?

    1. I don’t blame you for being frustrated. Anyone should be. If we can keep our you know what together for the next two years, we will have a chance to make some serious changes. In the mean time we control many state and local governments. We should, therefore, be able to elect conservative school superintendents and start replacing liberal principals and other liberal overhead positions. Don’t give-up, Cheryl. Please!

  6. Great post!

    I was fortunate enough to attend private schools up until college and then eventually attended a private college as well. I know one reason I went to a private high school 50 miles away from home was because the public schools in my area were so bad, filled with drugs and violence, that my parents didn’t want me in that type of atmosphere. I am so thankful that I attended private schools.

    I think there should be vouchers and that parents shouldn’t be penalized if they send their child/children to a private school. Why should parents have to pay the same amount of property taxes when their children aren’t attending public schools? I think about 50% should be discounted from property taxes if your children aren’t attending public schools since the parents aren’t taking advantage of the government’s resources. If I had children I would be homeschooling them. I also think that the unions need to stop having a stranglehold over the students. Plus, bad teachers need to be given the boot.

    1. Teresa, thank you for coming by and taking the time to share your thoughts on such an important subject. Your parents were very wise. Unfortunately, as you point out, most parents/children have no choice. Hopefully, with the Republicans winning at the state and local level, we can begin the long process of change. However, the most important changes will have to wait until at least 2013.
      I went through public schools and university in the 50s and 60s. It was far from perfect but it was orders of magnitude better than what we have today.

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