March 20, 2007

Education Spending or Education Results

Carroll Andrew Morse

Over at RI Future, Matt Jerzyk equates improving education in Rhode Island to increasing the amount spent on education in Rhode Island…

In an article about how a Rhode Island tech company was just bought by Microsoft, it is asserted that we need greater school spending not tax cuts to grow and attract business. After all, the creative economy needs those who can, in fact, think...
Actually, nothing in the Projo article cited by Mr. Jerzyk implies that greater school spending is the answer to improving Rhode Island’s poor educational performance. By now, only the economic determinists who dominate the contemporary progressive movement equate increased spending to education improvement, despite ample evidence that they shouldn’t.

You’re probably familiar with the statistics that show if all it took to produce education results was high levels of education spending, then Rhode Island would already be a top 10 state in education quality, but for the benefit of those who haven't reviewed the data in a while, let's go through it one more time. According to the American Legislative Exchange Council’s most recent survey of state education inputs and outputs (slow-opening PDF file), based on data from 2003-2004, Rhode Island ranks 35th in academic achievement. The next worst New England state is Maine at 18th. Is the problem lack of spending? Well, according to the ALEC report, Rhode Island was 9th in educational expenditures per-pupil, 9th in the average salary of instructional staff, and 9th in student/teacher ratio in the period studied. So if spending is the answer, why isn’t Rhode Island already 9th in educational achievement? What would infusing new money into the existing educational structure do that the old money hasn't?

Clearly, Rhode Island’s top-down educational bureaucracies don’t have a clue as how to spend education money in a way that produces a quality education.

But if Mr. Jerzyk and others of like mind really do believe total spending is the primary issue, they should be willing to consider a compromise. The state of Utah recently increased education spending by about $10 million dollars per year as part of their new statewide public voucher program. (AR on the subject here; Projo op-ed on the subject here). Would Rhode Island's progressives be willing to support implementation of a similar program here, if it would help them direct more money to education? Or do Progressives believe that maintaining strict bureaucratic control of public resources, rather than improving education results or even increasing education funding, should be the top priority of education policy?

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Without resorting to free-market mumbo- jumbo, explain again how vouchers are supposed to make the public schools better?

The public schools have to educate everyone. So, you siphon off some of the more motivated students, you're still left with those most difficult to educate.

How is "competition" supposed to help? Can you show me evidence that it will help? And, by help, I mean help everyone, not just those who choose to leave?

Look, vouchers, charter schools, etc. tend to work very well on a small, introductory scale. When the program shows initial results, more people join, and, eventually, you end up with most of the population in the "alternative" system. Except then it becomes the standard, and the problems of the standard model start to re-appear.

This is what happened in Philadelphia.

And, am I to infer from your statements that you are opposed to merging the 39 school districts into a much smaller numnber of units? This would save, it seems, on replicated efforts, like administration, purchasing, etc. Do we currently have 39 superintendents? Do we need 39? Seems that cutting that number by 35 or so would be a start.

If you're going to propose market solutions, look at realistic ones. Wouldn't centralized purchasing be able to negotiate better prices?

Posted by: klaus at March 20, 2007 2:54 PM


Since you obviously skipped over the initial post after reading the title and came right to the comments, I’ll reprint some of it for you…

Rhode Island ranks 35th in academic achievement….Rhode Island was 9th in educational expenditures per-pupil, 9th in the average salary of instructional staff, and 9th in student/teacher ratio in the period studied. So if spending is the answer, why isn’t Rhode Island already 9th in educational achievement? What would infusing new money into the existing educational structure do that the old money hasn't?
If that’s not the “evidence evidence evidence” that you are always demanding about the current system not working, then what will you accept? Or to phrase it your way, where is the evidence that more spending will improve anything, when it hasn’t already.

Education performance in the U.S. has been collapsing for 40 years under the control of command-and-control, geographic monopoly, municipal political machines. How is a 40 year decline in educational performance in the U.S. evidence that the current system is “helping everyone”, which is the standard you are asking for. There's no evidence that increased spending will improve anything, and you reject any structural changes to the way education is delivered, so what do you propose?

If your goal for education reform is to pay a little bit less for the current mediocre school system, then regionalization will probably get you there. I’m not sure how far it will get you beyond that.

The funny thing is that on this issue, you are really a conservative, in the original European sense of the word. You’re argument is that no matter how bad things are, nothing should be changed, because it might get worse.

Posted by: Andrew at March 21, 2007 10:09 AM

And if you'd read my comment, maybe you'd have picked up my point.

Please bear in mind that I don't craft these before hand. Perhaps I should, to be stylistically correct and a bit more consistent, but then I'd probably never get around to actually commenting on anything and you'd lose such an excellent source of cannon-fodder. Regardless, I do apologize for rambling from time to time.

Also bear in mind that I am commenting; my purpose is to show up the holes in your argument; I believe that all of you take way too much on faith. In this case, it's the inherent superiority of vouchers.

My other point is to get you to actually define what you're trying to accomplish. Improve ed? Or cut costs? Both of these come out at different times in different posts, or, sometimes, in the same post.

This one seems to be about improving ed. Fine. How exactly will vouchers do that? And, what are you going to do when you hit the point of diminishing returns? As other school systems have discovered, what works on a small scale may not work on a large one. What then? Have you given that any thought?

My point is that cutting costs may be the more effective way to start. How? Economies of scale. Or did you miss that part? What is your position on consolidating school districts?

Look, I have the intrinsic advantage in that I don't have the burden of setting out a solution as is incumbent on you. Rather, I can sit back and take pot shots where I see a weak spot. However, if you then consider what I say, and provide a legitimate response, then we may actually start on a dialogue that could prove beneficial to all.

I agree that this state faces huge problems. I'm just not sure that knee-jerk ideological solutions--from either side. If you propose them, I will shoot them down. I expect nothing less from you. Then maybe we can actually have a discussion.

Posted by: klaus at March 21, 2007 5:34 PM
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