May 16, 2012

Spending More Money Gets Us Better Education, Right?

Patrick Laverty

On Monday, released their annual high school rankings for Rhode Island. 51 public high schools ranked on a variety of factors. I was speaking with a friend of mine from Cumberland and we were lamenting our home town's disappointing ranking at 34th. "That's what you get when you have the lowest per-pupil spending" he mentioned. Which then got us thinking. Is that true? Does Cumberland rank 34th because it has the lowest per-pupil spending rate at $11,090? So we decided to take a look and test correlation.

The correlation we tested was per-pupil spending against the GoLocalProv rankings. Argue against how they ranked them all you want, but they are what they are. The Barrington and EG schools are at the top and the Providence schools are near the bottom of the rankings, as we often see.

If you want to brush up on correlation, here's the Wikipedia page.

What we found when we did the correlation was a -0.14 relationship. Very, very weak. If you want to conclude anything, spending more money does not get you a higher ranking on the GLP charts. If anything, in a very, very weak way, more money gets you a lower ranking. But just for the sake of the argument, let's call it no correlation at all.

We hear of people in education telling us that if we just spend more on education, we'll get better results. Even though, we are one of the top spenders in the country for education and we have some of the worst results in the country for that money.

Also, when schools are in trouble, like in Central Falls and some in Providence, we're told that the problem is more with the student's home life and with the parents. When the Central Falls teachers were all laid off, we were told they were just scapegoats for inattentive parents or parents who didn't value education. The teachers are scapegoats for lazy kids according to others.

If that's the case, the problem is with bad parents, then how will throwing more money at the problem solve it? The teachers have told us that the problem isn't with them, the problem is with the parents. The solution is that we should spend more on the schools? The top ranked school in the state spends less per pupil than the last ranked school. The school paying the most is ranked 21st. Similar examples are seen throughout the chart. I know there are other factors that go into good schools, but this doesn't point to "more money" being the solution.

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Well, what do you expect? RI has a high population density. Which means we have to pay teachers more... or something...

Posted by: Dan at May 16, 2012 11:44 PM

Dan, we also have nice beaches.

Posted by: Patrick at May 16, 2012 11:45 PM

Most of the top schools are smaller and have a homogeneous population. My son is at NK, with about 1700 students. Although it's not urban, it does struggle with the low end NECAP scores. This directly affects their ranking. However, most high schools are bimodal, and I am interested in the SAT scores, the honors and AP classes, and the extra-curricular activities and sports, not the NECAP scores.

These are the weightings they use.

Student/Teacher Ratio 15%
Per Pupil Spending 15%
NECAP-English 10%
NECAP-Math 10%
NECAP-Science 10%
SAT-Verbal 10%
SAT-Math 10%
SAT-Writing 10%
Graduation Rate 10%

This is not a merit function I would use. If a large school wanted to improve this ranking, it would put all of the extra money in the low end. Most of the top students are already working their butts off and getting help at home with classes and SAT. They might even shift more money from the top end to the low end.

However, assuming that this is a reasonable formula, would more money improve the ranking? Duh. Money is 15%. Student/Teacher ratio is 15%. Spend more money and hire more teachers. Your ranking will go up. Done.

If you actually use the money to improve a high school, it will most likely be spent at the lower NECAP end. However, most of these problems were created in the lower grades and money spent in high school fixing these problems is very inefficient. "An ounce of prevention..."

"When the Central Falls teachers were all laid off, we were told they were just scapegoats for inattentive parents or parents who didn't value education."

They have to use some of that "critical thinking" they claim to teach. They have to look at the bad numbers and work backwards. They have to look at actual NECAP questions and the raw percent correct scores. (I once went to an open house where our schools talked about poor NECAP numbers. NOBODY was looking at the test questions.) You have to look at the questions and ask how bad poverty, parents, and peers are to not meet the pathetically low cutoff of the test given that kids are in school for 6+ hours a day. Forget problem solving. What is 6*7? Forget homework and parents. Of course, they don't want to separate kids by ability or willingness to learn because it provides such great cover. They won't even allow the more willing urban kids the opportunity to go to charter schools. Then they claim that charter schools take precious money from the regular public schools. If only they had that money, everything would be fine. Or not.

Back with the Achievement First uproar, it dawned on me that we now have what I call urban elite parents. If affluent parents send their kids off to private schools, they are (supposedly) doing it for elite purposes. Now, many educators are claiming the same sort of motivation for urban parents who want their kids to go to charter schools. Life's tough when you start attacking those kids and parents you are supposedly committed to help.

They hide behind poverty, but won't let kids go to charter schools because they want to fix poverty. They want to close the achievement gap, but they want to do that with nobody getting out. To be fair, they need to stop affluent parents from teaching at home or using tutors. The gap would drop dramatically.

They want money without strings or anyone trying to separate the variables. They surely don't want to risk parent choice.

Posted by: SteveH at May 17, 2012 8:38 AM

"The solution is that we should spend more on the schools? The top ranked school in the state spends less per pupil than the last ranked school."

Not sure why that strikes you as profound. Inner city schools have higher costs than upper middle class, suburban ones with less need for ESL, remedial instruction, etc.

btw, imho the top ranked school in this state is, in fact, the most expenseive. What does Wheeler cost? Why do you think they spend that much? Do you seriously think the financial component has nothing to do with the quality of that education?

Sure money isn't the only concern, perhaps not even the primary concern. But you're way off-base on this one.

Posted by: Russ at May 17, 2012 10:34 AM

The answer is 'tracking'. Put the promising students into college prep schools (like Classical) that have well-paid and highly-credentialed teachers and staff. Put the kids who show no interest or aptitude into their own schools that try to at least get them ready for basics in life and work, using less-credentialed and cheaper faculty.

Posted by: mangeek at May 17, 2012 10:57 AM

Filter out the dumb kids? Ugh. Well, at least you're honest about the desire for a formal two-tiered eduation system, one for the elite and one for kids who will serve them.

Posted by: Russ at May 17, 2012 11:10 AM

"Filter out the dumb kids?"

No. Not at all. Re-read what I said.

I want the kids who will never go to college and likely won't even graduate high school to be learning how to do actual work.

I went to the Met, where kids who would have otherwise dropped-out (myself included) did internships and learned 'outside the books'. I saw that school save hundreds of kids from poverty.

Meanwhile, the 'regular' public schools are trying to teach classes where some kids are going to Harvard and others aren't even going to be able to compute your change at McDonalds.

I'm sorry Russ, but no matter hard you wish for everything to be the way you want it to be, no matter how much money and resources you throw at making everything 'equal', the results never will be. Some kids are smart, and some aren't. The ones who aren't should at least get tracked towards self-sufficiency, and if they get smart along the way, they should have an opportunity to hop on a different track.

Also, we obviously don't want to be judging schools/teachers working with different tracks on test scores alone.

Posted by: mangeek at May 17, 2012 11:51 AM

"What does Wheeler cost? Why do you think they spend that much? Do you seriously think the financial component has nothing to do with the quality of that education?"

I posed the same question on RIFuture, Russ, although with the purpose of making a different point about private education. The response I received was that private schools aren't any better in quality and people are just paying for the brand as a classist "positional good." Perhaps you can enlight your progressive brethren on that subject; I understand from your posts that private education has done very well by your children. No need to explain, we've all heard your rationalizations for perpetuating the grossly unfair system you despise.

"The answer is 'tracking'."

Progressives label such programs as "racist" and "classist." Commenter Russ went so far as to describe them as "ethnic cleansing" in an RIFuture post a few months back.

Posted by: Dan at May 17, 2012 11:54 AM

"Meanwhile, the 'regular' public schools are trying to teach classes where some kids are going to Harvard and others aren't even going to be able to compute your change at McDonalds."

Quite often, not even the Harvard kids can compute their change at McDonald's either. It does seem to be a lost art.

Any time you want a chuckle, when your total comes to something like $5.50, give them $11 and watch them hand you back the 1 dollar bill before making change. I actually had one cashier accuse me of trying to confuse and scam her while doing this.

Posted by: Patrick at May 17, 2012 12:14 PM

End the failed, pedophile infested, marxist propaganda factories which masquerade as "public" schools and give parents a voucher which they can use for schools, internet education, homeschooling or any combination they choose.
The failure to advocate the above is the worst failure of the Republican party.

Posted by: Tommy Cranston at May 17, 2012 12:24 PM

"The response I received was that private schools aren't any better in quality and people are just paying for the brand..."

You're confusing discussions on public vs. private schools in general with comments on a specific private school. Of course you know what I think makes that school different from the public schools that are becoming like more than test-prep factories in the city.

Posted by: Russ at May 17, 2012 12:44 PM

Gotta love Tommy's definitions. I guess if one house in all of RI had one cockroach in it, that'd qualify as an "infestation".

All professions have their share of bad people and pedophile teachers will get increased publicity.

Posted by: Patrick at May 17, 2012 12:46 PM

"give parents a voucher"

In a lot of communities, it's hard enough to compel parents to get their kids to school at all. This 'solution' would create the biggest, most dangerous swaths of poverty, illiteracy, and crime that the western world has ever seen. All so we could save 30% or so on property taxes.

Good thinking Tommy, you just followed your ideology right into the deep end, and it doesn't swim.

Posted by: mangeek at May 17, 2012 1:23 PM

Yes, Russ, I've heard from you many times about how "progressive" Wheeler education is. That's why they don't use any testing, don't use any textbooks, don't use grades, don't send parents report cards, don't participate in AP courses, have no standardized discipline policy, and have a curriculum driven predominantly by student interests, right? Wait, none of that is remotely true? Oh, but they pay some lip service to "social issues" and "community" on their website as they charge their 95%+ white student body $30-40k/year in tuition, so that makes them progressive. Alfie Kohn would be proud of you for participating in such a nobel experiment, to be sure.

Posted by: Dan at May 17, 2012 1:33 PM

What I find interesting is how American progressives turn to countries in Eurpoe for answers to education problems. Countries that are largely non-diverse, have strict immigration controls, and that 'track' their students. In some places, like Finland, they don;t have to 'track', since it's basically a monoculture.

Posted by: mangeek at May 17, 2012 2:29 PM

"Wait, none of that is remotely true?"

And none of that is what Kohn describes as progressive education, but why let that get in the way of a good rant? Here's what Kohn actually lists:

Attending to the whole child
Social justice
Intrinsic motivation
Deep understanding
Active learning
Taking kids seriously

That's exactly the kind of environment you'll find.

Posted by: Russ at May 17, 2012 2:31 PM

Wheeler uses TERC and CPM for math in the lower grades, so not only do you have to pay big bucks for tuition, you have to make up for bad curricula at home. Been there. Done that. (Not at Wheeler) If I am going reteach at home, I can get that at the public schools for free. However, I'm fairly happy with NKHS. They use real textbooks and actually prepare kids for AP classes - assuming you survived happy learning land in K-8.

Posted by: SteveH at May 17, 2012 2:39 PM

"In some places, like Finland, they don;t have to 'track', since it's basically a monoculture."

Sorry? Finland does offer tracks, but only on entrance to high school.

To be sure, Finland is an unusual nation. Its schools are carefully designed to address the academic, social, emotional, and physical needs of children, beginning at an early age. Free preschool programs are not compulsory, but they enroll 98 percent of children. Compulsory education begins at the age of seven. Finnish educators take care not to hold students back or label them as “failing,” since such actions would cause student failure, lessen student motivation, and increase social inequality. After nine years of comprehensive schooling, during which there is no tracking by ability, Finnish students choose whether to enroll in an academic or a vocational high school. About 42 percent choose the latter. The graduation rate is 93 percent, compared to about 80 percent in the US.
Posted by: Russ at May 17, 2012 2:49 PM

"That's exactly the kind of environment you'll find."

So basically, for all of the progressive education tenets that can be directly verified, Wheeler does the complete opposite and uses traditional models, but for all of the progressive education tenets that are completely subjective and can't be verified, you claim they're very progressive. Fine.

Posted by: Dan at May 17, 2012 2:58 PM

Our schools would look like that too if we were 96.5% 'majority', like Finland. They don't have classrooms where 40% of the kids can't speak the language. They don't have 'race issues' to work around because it's basically a one-race nation, there's on average ONE minority child per classroom, and their parents are probably there on business, not as economic refugees.

I like multiculturalism, but I won't delude myself: it's not cheap, it's certainly not easy, and it's not efficient. I never believed that 'diversity is our strength' crap; diversity is a pain in the arse, but it's the right thing to do.

Posted by: mangeek at May 17, 2012 3:01 PM

Jeez, I figured this out years ago. For every 300 kids build, or buy a schoolhouse. Put 12 teachers in there and teach them, 1-12. Have a nice little intramural sports program as part of the curriculum.

Each school sponsors a rock band. Have a battle of the bands between the 12 closest schools, and a round robin sporting event, or events.

All the kids will know one another, the teachers will know all the kids, and school will be fun and productive, rather than a mass mob of anonymous kids running the warehouse.

Posted by: michael at May 17, 2012 3:06 PM

"So basically, for all of the progressive education tenets that can be directly verified, Wheeler does the complete opposite and uses traditional models..."

Look, set up and knock down that strawman all you like. I've defined what I and progressive reformers mean when we say "progressive education." I won't attempt to defend every mischaracterization you could present.

It's actually quite easy to verify. Simply visit or speak with the administrators, faculty, or parents.

Posted by: Russ at May 17, 2012 3:14 PM

The only reason Finland is getting any attention at all is PISA, and PISA is no indication of a proper preparation for a STEM career. Look at the sample questions. Look at their assumptions.

RI now gets to look forward to CCSS and the new PARCC test that will replace NECAP. People will fuss over those numbers, but the best students will still be the ones getting help at home or with tutors to fix bad curricula and low expectations. They will be the ones heading to STEM careers. To them, PISA and CCSS are meaningless. Still, urban parents will be denied access to schools of their choice. Where is the social justice?

Posted by: SteveH at May 17, 2012 3:20 PM

"Our schools would look like that too if we were 96.5% 'majority', like Finland. They don't have classrooms where 40% of the kids can't speak the language."

I think that's just making a convenient excuse for not considering alternative models. Why not ask the same about the models for high-stakes testing based corporate reform such as Japan and Korea?

I think also it's easily disproven (took me a while to find this article again)...

Yet Sahlberg [director of the Finnish Ministry of Education's Center for International Mobility] doesn't think that questions of size or homogeneity should give Americans reason to dismiss the Finnish example. Finland is a relatively homogeneous country -- as of 2010, just 4.6 percent of Finnish residents had been born in another country, compared with 12.7 percent in the United States. But the number of foreign-born residents in Finland doubled during the decade leading up to 2010, and the country didn't lose its edge in education. Immigrants tended to concentrate in certain areas, causing some schools to become much more mixed than others, yet there has not been much change in the remarkable lack of variation between Finnish schools in the PISA surveys across the same period.

Samuel Abrams, a visiting scholar at Columbia University's Teachers College, has addressed the effects of size and homogeneity on a nation's education performance by comparing Finland with another Nordic country: Norway. Like Finland, Norway is small and not especially diverse overall, but unlike Finland it has taken an approach to education that is more American than Finnish. The result? Mediocre performance in the PISA survey. Educational policy, Abrams suggests, is probably more important to the success of a country's school system than the nation's size or ethnic makeup.

Posted by: Russ at May 17, 2012 3:21 PM

"Look, set up and knock down that strawman all you like. I've defined what I and progressive reformers mean when we say "progressive education." I won't attempt to defend every mischaracterization you could present."

How is it a mischaracterization? All of those concrete practices I mentioned are generally opposed by progressive education advocates. If you're now claiming that those practices are consistent with progressive education, then calling it "progressive education" is meaningless and can mean literally anything. Aren't you always saying, "Don't test. Don't evaluate. Don't grade." etc.? Well Wheeler does plenty of all of the above.

"It's actually quite easy to verify. Simply visit or speak with the administrators, faculty, or parents."

I have a younger sibling who attended Wheeler for many years, and I have tutored a number of Wheeler students after school. I am directly familiar with their prolific use of textbooks, tests, report cards, standardized curriculum, and homework, as well as their overall school culture. Go BS somebody who isn't and sell them on how "progressive" it is.

Posted by: Dan at May 17, 2012 3:36 PM

I'm important to make note of GoLocalProv's footnote:

"For schools that did not provide figures, the average was used as a placeholder when computing the rankings."

For the "spending per pupil" column, there are 14 schools with $15,305 listed. Presumably, GoLocalProv did not get spending figures for those high schools, so the average of the rest was used.

With 14 schools not reporting spending, it's difficult to draw any conclusions from their rankings.

Posted by: Bill D at May 17, 2012 3:48 PM

Most if not all schools are a mix of progressive and traditional approaches. Pointing out that not everthing aligns with the progressive model doesn't change my opinion of their overall progressive approach.

fwiw, I've yet to see a grade assigned to anything my child has done. In fact, I haven't seen any of those things you claim characterize the education she recieves. Perhaps other classes or grades work differently.

Posted by: Russ at May 17, 2012 4:14 PM

It's entirely possible that the Hamilton School operates without grades and tests for various reasons. I won't speak about anything with which I am not familiar. But the rest of the school most assuredly uses traditional grading and testing.

Posted by: Dan at May 17, 2012 4:35 PM

I actually don't doubt you. For instance, I'm fairly certain there are text books there in some of the classes. I just haven't seen it (yet).

Posted by: Russ at May 17, 2012 5:00 PM

Maybe we should lure some Finns to come set up a charter and see how it does when it's fed a cross-section of our urban students.

Posted by: at May 17, 2012 9:32 PM

Yeah and unleash Pat Crowley with his bullhorn and Liedecker and Rainone and all the other militant NEA union thugs on them. They'd be run out of the country if they pulled their hardline, in-your-face intimidation crap in Finland. That society wouldn't tolerate it for a moment, but unions are free to act like mobsters in the U.S. and get all kinds of special privileges by law here.

Posted by: Dan at May 17, 2012 9:54 PM

I don't care if some parents want progressive or even unschooling approaches for their kids. How about "laptop learning" around a Harkness Table? I don't care. How about teaching using hand puppets? Go for it. What's the difference between Phillips Exeter and Phillips Andover? Not a lot. They both set very high standards.

Oh? I don't get a choice? I have to accept our town's full inclusion and fuzzy, mixed ability classrooms? I have to put up with Everyday Math and their "trust the spiral" approach to "critical thinking" and "problem solving". (Yes, they are sneer quotes.) The problem is not progressive versus classical, but who gets to decide. if you are affluent, you get to decide (sort of). If not, you get "best practices", "critical thinking", and PISA providing cover for low expectations. The "sort of" refers to how so many silly ed school ideas find their way into private schools.

Posted by: SteveH at May 17, 2012 10:58 PM

Steve--concur. Perhaps you should run for a place on the school committee in NK.... Please!

Posted by: Mike678 at May 18, 2012 8:55 AM

I can't. I live in Jamestown.

Interestingly, we finished our own comparison of NK (#15) and Narragansett (#2) high schools two years ago. Narragansett really wants our students because there is an economy of scale (which would cause their ranking to go down).

This is our town's report on the comparison:

The end conclusion was that both schools were "viable", even though most clearly thought that NK was far superior. Some people in our town really love smaller, more homogeneous schools. I was at a presentation by Narragansett teachers and school committee members. It was scary bad how they "dissed" SAT and AP classes.

Even in the GoLocalProv analysis, you have to look at the details. Narragansett costs so much per student because they don't have many students. That's why they want our students. Next, compare the sum of NECAP scores and the sum of SAT scores for both schools. Narragansett's higher NECAP scores reflect their more homogeneous mix of students. However, NK has a much higher average SAT sum, even with many of the lower ability students taking the SAT. That's a red flag, along with Narragansett's public comments on the SAT.

NK also has many more sports, extra-curricular offerings, and AP classes. Their music and theater programs are amazing. That's why I said before that many larger high schools are bimodal. You can't look at averages to see what's going on at the low NECAP level versus the high SAT end. Whether or not a school is good will depend on where your kids fit in.

Maybe it's trimodal. NK now has three tiers; "Success Academy", College Prep, and Honors (with AP). They don't allow slackers in the low SA academy, which is for kids two or more years behind grade level. This means that the CP level is watered down with those who might lack the motivation to graduate. This pushes many kids to select all honors classes. (This used to be called just College Prep when I was growing up, but that's another discussion.) The kids in SA get extra help so that the school's NECAP scores look good, the honors kids do well, perhaps in spite of the school, but kids in the middle CP might struggle. It's hard to separate the variables, but I know some bright kids who are in danger of not graduating.

I don't want to come across as a huge NKHS booster, since most of my comments are relative. The recent budget fight is not encouraging. Many see it as simple equations: more money = better, less money = worse. The school suggests cuts that push all sorts of hot buttons and the town council wants line item control over school budget. Of course, not all school costs are on the table at this point.

Posted by: SteveH at May 18, 2012 10:52 AM

Too bad.

Yes, the $ arguments in NK are simplistic--more money doesn't mean better education and it's pretty disheartening to see the "leadership" put the students on the cut line to fire up the parents against the TC. That said, the TC and most parents aren't biting, so it'll work out.
SAT and AP enrollment are important, but as you said earlier, the good students can succeed with (or despite) the teachers. I'd also like to see the AP scores--enrollment doesn't equal success. The real test of a high school, in my opinion,is the botton 2 quartiles--and the poor NECAP scores aren't a positive.

Posted by: Mike678 at May 18, 2012 11:44 AM

"...the good students can succeed with (or despite) the teachers."

That doesn't mean you ignore the problem. Also, this makes life difficult for kids in the second quartile where parents can't or won't help out at home. The top kids don't do well magically on their own. They get specific help at home. Our schools don't want to know that I used Singapore Math at home for years, making up for bad math at both a private school and our public schools. The public school was thrilled when he came back in sixth grade. They want to keep up the idea that kids CAN get a good education in public schools. The joke is that many private schools suffer from the same silly ed school ideas of fuzzy natural learning in K-8. How great does it feel to pay huge amounts of money for a private school and still have to spend time ensuring mastery of the basics at home?

When my son was in first grade, we went to talk to the people at St. Michaels in Newport. When I gave the headmaster a "look" when they said they used Everyday Math, she quickly said that they "supplement". Did they really think that what all parents want is just their name? I was glad to see that they made a big splash last year on their change-over to Singapore Math. Does any other K-6 school in RI (public or private) use Singapore Math?

"The real test of a high school, in my opinion,is the botton 2 quartiles--and the poor NECAP scores aren't a positive."

That is a society goal, not a parent or individual student opportunity goal. Are urban parents, desparate to get their kids into charter schools, concerned about average NECAP scores? Do they want to send their kids elsewhere after looking at these scores? With NECAP (and next, CCSS), the focus is on averages, not individuals. You can't fix problems by focusing your attention on relative changes to an average. You are left with only guess and check as a solution technique. You have to look at specific, individual problems and work backwards to the source.

Sor example, all of the high school NECAP issues start in the lower grades. The lower grades get a free ride with all of their full inclusion, happy and natural learning. I've had lower grade teachers talk about how math should be a pump and not a filter. They use Everyday Math which "trusts the spiral" and pumps kids along. Then they hit the big high school filter and the high school is left with picking up the pieces. NK added labs to some algebra classes to help students with their basic skills. What they should really do is to yell and scream at the lower grades to do their jobs.

What many kids get instead is the idea that all they need is a little more motivation and engagement. It's their fault. Project Lead The Way in high school won't magically motivate or engage away a lack of basic math skills to provide a path to a STEM career. Making it into CCRI is nothing to cheer about if the urban student really could have gotten into Brown. Individuals matter, not NECAP averages. Many individuals can be helped right now at no additional cost, but educators don't want to let them go.

Posted by: SteveH at May 19, 2012 8:09 AM
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