The Purpose of This Bl;og

By and large, liberals are very decent, kind, and compassionate people who genuinely want what is best. This should be kept in mind as we explore the Law of Unintended Negative Consequences near invariably resulting from Leftist big-hearted solutions to societal problems.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Public Education - Costs/Benefits

When liberals are faced with challenges, one of their favorite governmental strategies is to toss money at the problem. To them, spending is the default "fix" for most all socio-political issues, including improving education. And, in some respects this makes perfect sense. Governments tend not to be volunteer or charitable organizations, and they cost lots of money to operate. 

However, does it work? Have our nation's children greatly improved in their educational attainments, particularly in comparison to other countries, by pouring increased amounts of money into the public education system each year?

Even though President Obama hasn't kept his promise to report back each year and hold himself accountable for his education promises and results (see HERE and HERE), there are other data sources that can be utilized to answer the questions above, not just in relation to Obama's administration, but all administrations from both parties over the last half century and more.

According to, total government spending (federal, state, and local) on education skyrocketed from $9.6 billion in 1950 to an estimated $1.0 trillion in 2014, which is more than a 10,000% increase in 64 years, or an average annual growth of 161.2%.

Whereas, the U.S. Census reported that the numbers of students enrolled in K - college was about 46.2 million in 1965 and grew to 62 million in 2004, which amounts to a 34% increase over 39 years, or an average annual growth of 0.87%. (See also HERE)

This means that the per year average increase in expenditures for education was about 185 times the average increase in student enrollment since 1965. Astounding!

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) indicates that the per-pupil expenditures for elementary and secondary schools alone in current dollars for 1996 was $5,923 whereas it is projected to reach $11,810 in 2014. (See also HERE)  And, former Secratary of Education, William J. Bennett, declared: "Between 1960 and 1995, U.S. public school spending per student, adjusted for inflation, increased by 212%. (See HERE)

Part of the reason for the rapid increase in expenditures is because, as noted in the Daily Caller, "In the last 20 years, the number of K-12 administrators has increased 2.3 times faster than the number of students in school, according to the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. Teacher employment also outpaced student growth, though not as rapidly as the administrator count did. Administrative positions at K-12 schools increased by 700 percent since 1950 — seven times faster than the growth of student enrollment." (See HERE)

With this in mind, let's now look at what all the extra money has bought us in the way of anticipated improved education.

There are several international measurements for educational success. For example, there is the Program for International Assessment (PISA),  which is described as: "...a triennial international survey which aims to evaluate education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students. To date, students representing more than 70 economies have participated in the assessment." (See HERE) This test covers three main subject areas: math, science, and reading. Using the findings reported at the NCES, here is how the U.S. scored and ranked internationally for each triennial since 2000.

Math Literacy:
  • 2003: U.S scored 483, which was below the average of 500 for all OECD countries, with a high of 544 for Finland. The U.S. ranked 24th.
  • 2006: U.S. scored 474, which was below the international average of 498. and ranked 31st out of 50+ countries.
  • 2009: U.S. scored 487, which was below the international average of 496, and ranked 28th.
  • 2012 U.S. scored 481, which was below the international average of 494, with a high of 613 by Shanghai China, and ranked 35th over all.
 Science Literacy:
  • 2003: U.S. scored 491, which was below the international average of 500.
  • 2006: U.S. scored 489, which was below the international average of 500, and ranked 28th overall
  • 2009: U.S. scored 502, which wasn't measurably different from the international average, and ranked 24th overall.
  • 2012: U.S. scored 497, which was below the international average of 501, with a high of 580 by Shanghai China, and ranked 28th over all.
Reading Literacy::
  • 2003: U.S. scored 495, which wasn't measurably different from the international average.
  • N/A
  • 2009: U.S. scored 500, which wasn't measurably different from the international average, and ranked in the top 20 out of 57 countries.
  • 2012: U.S. scored 498, which wasn't measurably different from the international average, with the high of 570 by Shanghai China, and ranked 23rd out of 57 countries.
The surprisingly mediocre performance by the U.S. was echoed in other international tests like the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), which "assesses and compares mathematics and science knowledge and skills at grades 4 and 8 in of fifty developed and non-industrialized nations" (ibid), as well as the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), which "studies the reading achievement and reading behaviors and attitudes of 4th-grade students in the United States and students in the equivalent of 4th grade in other participating countries. (ibid)

Furthermore, "The World Economic Forum ranks the United States 52nd in the quality of mathematics and science education, and 5th (and declining) in overall global competitiveness The United States ranks 27th in developed nations in the proportion of college students receiving undergraduate degrees in science or engineering. There are more foreign students studying in U.S. graduate schools than the number of U.S. students, and over 2/3 of the engineers who receive Ph.D.’s from United States universities are not United States citizens " (See HERE)

So, even though significantly greater amounts of money have been spent by the government each year on public education in the U.S., the Leftist LUNC here is that student scores in math and science and reading appear to have generally trended downward. Thus, expenditures of more money haven't yielded improved performance, but rather quite the opposite.

More alarming is the fact that: "In 2010, the United States spent $11,826 per full-time-equivalent (FTE) student on elementary and secondary education, an amount 39 percent higher than the OECD average of $8,501. At the postsecondary level, U.S. expenditures per FTE student were $25,576, almost twice as high as the OECD average of $13,211." (See HERE)

Also, the liberal-leaning Huffington Post reported: "The United States spent more than $11,000 per elementary student in 2010 and more than $12,000 per high school student. When researchers factored in the cost for programs after high school education such as college or vocational training, the United States spent $15,171 on each young person in the system – more than any other nation covered in the report. That sum was slightly higher than some developed countries and it far surpassed others. Switzerland's total spending per student was $14,922 while Mexico averaged $2,993 in 2010. The average OECD nation spent $9,313 per young person. As a share of its economy, the United States spent more than the average country in the survey. In 2010, the United States spent 7.3 percent of its gross domestic product on education, compared with the 6.3 percent average of other countries in that organization of the world's most developed countries." (See HERE and HERE and HERE)

Yet, as indicated in the international studies mentioned above, the Leftist LUNC here is that while the U.S. spent considerably more money per pupil than other countries, it tended to perform below the average of those other countries. In particular, in 2007, the U.S. spent about $10,599 per elementary and secondary student, as compared with about $2000 for China (see HERE). Nevertheless, the average scores for China were more than 25% higher than the U.S each triennial.  In other words, more than 5 times the dollars yielded only 75% the performance. How is that possible?

This pattern also holds somewhat true between the states. For instance, the state of New Jersey typically spent more than twice as much on education than the state of Idaho ($16,000 per student as compared with $6,900 -- see HERE), and yet it produced little difference in 12th grade math scores (156 vs 153 --see HERE), though lower scores in reading (288 vs. 290 -- see HERE), and lower scores in 8th grade science (155 vs 158 - see HERE).

Clearly, money alone is not the answer.

To make matters worse, a CATO Institute study found: "Although public schools are usually the biggest item in state and local budgets, spending figures provided by public school officials and reported in the media often leave out major costs of education and thus understate what is actually spent. To document the phenomenon, this paper reviews district budgets and state records for the nation’s five largest metro areas and the District of Columbia. It reveals that, on average, per-pupil spending in these areas is 44 percent higher than officially reported. Real spending per pupil ranges from a low of nearly $12,000 in the Phoenix area schools to a high of nearly $27,000 in the New York metro area. The gap between real and reported per-pupil spending ranges from a low of 23 percent in the Chicago area to a high of 90 percent in the Los Angeles metro region. To put public school spending in perspective, we compare it to estimated total expenditures in local private schools. We find that, in the areas studied, public schools are spending 93 percent more than the estimated median private school." (See HERE)

Compounding the issue, the cost of education isn't restricted to government expenditures. The Heritage Foundation points out: "Poor test scores are just one bit of evidence of widespread underperformance. According to the Department of Education, the national high school graduation rate is 73 percent, and some researchers argue that even this estimate is too generous. Whatever the exact number, it is disturbing that so many American students fail to earn a high school degree. Failure to graduate comes at a substantial cost. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average full-time worker who did not graduate from high school earns $23,400 annually, versus $30,000 for a high school graduate. That's a 29 percent pay cut. And an average full-time worker with a Bachelor's degree earns $52,200 per year-or more than twice as much as the average high school dropout." (See HERE)

This same article listed two other costs--remediation and opportunity, and closed with this salient question and comment: "what about the toll the current education system levies on the lives of the children it disserves?
No dollar figure can make up for a lifetime without even a basic education." (ibid)

For an explanation as to why these Leftist LUNCs may occur, please see: Gov: Wrong Tool for the Right Job - Introduction and Cold Nanny as well as The Politics of Compassion, Emotions, Ignorance, Denial, Blame-Shifting, Equality, and Victimization

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