Still no correlation between amount spent on education and actual education

We’ve already learned that Nevada’s doubling of inflation-adjusted spending on education has had no impact whatsoever on the quality and level of education.

A couple of academics writing in Investor’s Business Daily now have crunched the numbers on education spending and outcomes state-by-state, while adjusting for cost of living and demographic differences. Behold: There is no correlation whatsoever … still.

IBD chart

You may notice that Nevada ranks 40th in overall per-pupil spending but 43rd in 8th-grade test scores, but No, 1 spending Wyoming is in the middle of the pack and 50th ranked in spending Utah is well ahead of Nevada in outcome. States that spent less than Nevada are in the top 10 in outcome.

W. Michael Cox and Richard Alm, of the O’Neil Center for Global Markets and Freedom at SMU, concluded:

Better schools are certainly within our means, but we won’t get them with current assumptions and institutions. It’s time to harness the tried-and-true forces of capitalism — most important, choice and competition. Capitalism in the classroom will create proper incentives, spur innovation and drive entrepreneurial activity.

Milton Friedman famously argued that the private sector could do better than government in educating America. In 1955, he laid out a plan to issue taxpayer-funded vouchers for each student, which families would use to pay for the schools of their choice.

Typically, Friedman was both right and ahead of his time. Over the next six decades, the idea of incorporating market mechanisms into education has gained traction as the failure of government schools has become impossible to ignore.

A variety of school-choice options have been introduced in all parts of the country — voucher programs, charter schools, tax deductions and rebates, tax-credit scholarships, private schools, home schooling, online learning and educational savings accounts.

But in Nevada the teachers are pushing for mo’ money, mo’ money, mo’ money, even though mo’ money has done nothing to improve the level of education. The Nevada State Education Association has the margin tax on the November ballot, which will cripple the state’s business and still not guarantee any improvements.

We can keep doing the same ol’ thing or do as Cox and Alm suggest:

Americans are romantic about their public schools. We need to be realistic. We can keep doing what we’re doing — spending more on education, failing our students and undermining the American middle class. Or we can embrace choice and competition, the powerful forces that give us better products for less money in the private sector.

It’s time we let choice and competition work in education — we’ll end up spending less and getting better schools.

47 comments on “Still no correlation between amount spent on education and actual education

  1. Jan Moller says:

    As luck would have it, an interesting test of the choice theory is underway. Louisiana – sixth from the bottom in performance – has the most far-reaching voucher program in the country, and New Orleans leads the nation in charters. If more choice and competition is truly the answer, Louisiana should be up there with Montana and New Jersey in a few short years.

  2. ronknecht says:

    Mitch, another good pub svc you’ve done by highlighting and broadcasting this. Cox/Alm have good record on this and other issues. Thx,


    Sent from my iPad


  3. nyp says:

    That’s great. So my tax dollars will go to pay for Islamic education in madrassa schools.

  4. Let me know how it works out, Jan. But knowing Louisiana, I suspect they’ll impose rules that make the competition illusory.

  5. I don’t care if people keep their own money and spend it however they wish, Petey. Let it be a tax break for not using a public service, not a tax subsidy.

  6. Rincon says:

    According to the Economist, “The countries where pupils do best, such as Singapore, Finland, and South Korea, draw all their teachers from the top third of the academic pool. In America, three quarters of teacher-training colleges accept students who graduate in the bottom half of their class”.
    Our best and brightest don’t want to become teachers. They’re busy building careers in finance where they can push papers and make scads of money.

    I also found this in a study of teacher quality: “First, while student demographic characteristics
    are strongly related to student outcomes at the state level, they are less influential in
    predicting achievement levels than variables assessing the quality of the teaching
    force. Second, when aggregated at the state level, teacher quality variables appear to
    be more strongly related to student achievement than class sizes, overall spending
    levels, teacher salaries (at least when unadjusted for cost of living differentials), or
    such factors as the statewide proportion of staff who are teachers.
    Among variables assessing teacher “quality,” the percentage of teachers with full certification and a major in the field is a more powerful predictor of student achievement than teachers’ education levels (e.g., master’s degrees)”. (In the conclusion)

    According to this study, most of the factors related to student outcomes cost money . There is a chicken and egg problem here. Is it possible that some states, in response to poor student achievement spend more money in an effort to improve things, but spend it unwisely or in an atmosphere where parents are less than supportive? States having better students have the luxury of less pressure to spend more.

    And of course, look at the bottom performing states – W. Virginia, Mississippi, Alabama, etc. Why does living in the southeast correlate with poor student performance?

    Note that none of the 12 top spenders rank in the bottom 22 states. The chance of that being coincidence is extremely small, so there appears to be some correlation between spending and student performance after all.

  7. nyp says:

    So people who want to send their kid to the Louis Farrakhan Islamic Pre-School will get a special government-subidized tax break.

  8. Milty says:

    Why are you so intolerant of Islam, Nyp? And to think that you’ve accused most of the rest of us of bigotry at one time or another.

  9. nyp says:

    You are offended? Tell ya’ what, Milty — Think instead of how Mr. Mitchell wants our tax dollars to support the David Duke Pre- KKK Learning Academy.

  10. says:

    Thanks for doing this. Much needed. Public education has become nothing more than a bloated bureaucratic branch of government. Byron (Bill) Bilyeu 775-826-4222 (H & O) 775-826-5463 (Fax)

  11. Since when is all money tax dollars? A person makes money and doesn’t use a government service. Should they have to pay for it? Usually the tax break is far less than what is being spent. If a state is spending $6,000 per pupil, they might let a parent who opts keep $3,000. Still subsidizing the failing system.

  12. Nyp says:

    I understand that a lot of taxpayer money is already going to pay for private schools that teach that Adam & Eve kept dinosaurs as pets.

  13. Steve says:

    So…nyp has no issue with the lack of correlation in money vs results….nyp only wants to poke fun at private schools.

  14. Nyp says:

    Since there is supposedly no correlation between the money spent on educational resources and results, I wonder why all those rich dudes send their kids to schools where the annual tuition for first-graders is $40,00?

    I guess they are all just plain stupid.

  15. No correlation between “public school” spending and outcome. Stick to the topic.

  16. Nyp says:

    Educational resources only make a difference when they are private.
    Got it.

  17. Milty says:

    “So people who want to send their kid to the Louis Farrakhan Islamic Pre-School will get a special government-subidized tax break. Terrific.”

    “You are offended? Tell ya’ what, Milty — Think instead of how Mr. Mitchell wants our tax dollars to support the David Duke Pre- KKK Learning Academy.”

    Typical Nyp, continually changing his narrative to maintain the fluidity of his relative values.

  18. Nyp says:

    My values are “relative”??

  19. Steve says:

    More to the point, your statements are “fluid” relative to your narrative.

  20. Milty says:

    “My values are ‘relative’??”

    You’ve accused others of bigotry, then you make a derogatory comment that implies that an Islamic school shouldn’t receive indirect government funding. Then when you were accused of anti-Islamic prejudice, you changed your story to substituting a KKK school for the Islamic school. So if this hypocrisy doesn’t denote relative values, what would you call it?

  21. Steve says:

    I wonder how all those states who spend less than we do on per pupil funding do so much better than we do…
    I can’t help thinking having the 5th largest school district in the nation is in no way a license to brag and is more likely the primary reason we are failing so miserably. At the very least the CCSD has to have enough “administrators” to break up the whole thing into at the least 5 fully separate independent school districts without hiring one additional “administrator”.
    This would give local control back to the communities and oversight by the public would be far simpler to achieve.

  22. Steve says:

    It’s the Nyp-Tuck,Shuck and Jive, Milty.

  23. Nyp says:

    Steve: I think rah is a compliment, so thank you.

  24. Nyp says:

    Steve: I take that as a compliment, so thank you.

  25. Nyp says:

    Milty – you are correct. I object to my tax dollars being used to support someone else’s religious education.

  26. Steve says:

    You are welcome Nyp,,, it is always fun watching a master at his art.

  27. Milty says:

    “Milty – you are correct. I object to my tax dollars being used to support someone else’s religious education.”

    And the fact that you singled out Islam in two statements without mentioning Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc., was just an oversight on your part. Got it.

  28. Steve says:

    So it would be fine if vouchers and subsidies were used for private humanist education establishments, nyp?

  29. Nyp says:

    Steve – if you did that you would be discriminating against religious institutions, so no.

  30. Nyp says:

    Milty – I quite obviously did it to give the true-blue wingnuts like Vern Clayson an uncomfortable micro-second. But I would not like my tax dollars being used to support Hinduism, Judaism, Mormonism, Zoroastism, Catholicism or the Great Pumpkin.
    Would you?

  31. Steve says:

    Who said I would limit the vouchers to only Humanist organizations? I only ask you if money going to such humanist organizations would be OK with you.

    So is it OK for public money to be used in subsidizing humanist education organizations, Nyp?

  32. Nyp says:

    I dunno. What’s a “humanist organization”?
    Is that like The Elks?

  33. Steve says:

    Don’t be disingenuous. It doesn’t flatter you.

  34. Nyp says:

    Still can’t tell what these nefarious “humanist organizations” are. You mean like the Freemasons?

  35. Steve says:

    Who said nefarious?

    Oh that was Nyp, being “relative” and “fluid” in the “narrative” again.

    So, tax money going only to non religious education establishments is discriminatory to religious education establishments….is that what you are saying, Nyp?

  36. Milty says:

    “So, tax money going only to non religious education establishments is discriminatory to religious education establishments….is that what you are saying, Nyp?”

    Yeah, but Nyp also wrote, “I object to my tax dollars being used to support someone else’s religious education.”

  37. nyp says:

    Well, yes. Tax money going only to private schools that are not associated with religions would unconstitutionally discriminate against religions. However, I would not want my taxpayer dollars to pay for madrassas. (Or, for Milty’s sake, Yeshivas and Christian Academys,)

  38. Steve says:

    Then you would be fine with vouchers and subsidies if you could direct your tax dollars to only those organizations that you consider acceptable?

  39. Nyp says:

    No, because (again) that would unconstitutionally discriminate against religious schools.

  40. Steve says:

    All righty then…how DO those states that spend less than we do per pupil get those better results?

  41. Milty says:

    Can you cite the court case in which it was decided that “Tax money going only to private schools that are not associated with religions would unconstitutionally discriminate against religions”?

  42. Rincon says:

    Lots of variables, Steve. Nevada certainly doesn’t appear to be getting its money’s worth, but I’m not so sure that in general, spending has no correlation with student outcomes. How do you explain that according to Thomas’ chart, none of the 12 top spenders rank in the bottom 22 states. Do you think it’s a coincidence? Although I believe spending wisely can have a positive impact, I also believe that parental and community attitudes probably exert more influence than money ever will.

    For public vs private schools, I think it boils down to who should decide what kind of information (or propaganda) should be fed to children at school. The government or the parents? Both are a little scary.

  43. Steve says:

    ” Do you think it’s a coincidence?”
    In fact I do not. Remember, I was raised in Massachusetts.

    I believe the first steps are to emulate the things those spending less than us, while getting more than us, are doing. Then we can begin supporting those things that work, with more funding. Thereby being as efficient as possible with the dollars. THAT is what I believe those 12 are doing.
    In Massachusetts one town could spend less than another or produce less than another,,,in that state one would need to study the individual town districts to get a clear picture. Though I can say with little doubt more money PROPERLY spent leads to better results. This is where looking at those spending less while getting more comes in to play. This must be our next step, what we are doing now is simply not working and that is why more money will not help us.

    Note, I also call out the 5th largest district as being a bad thing. In Massachusetts the towns are king, county’s are third on the food chain and the state legislature can trump towns but usually supports them. The result of this are school districts much more answerable to their parents and constituents than we have in Clark County. My own family moved two towns over for the schools, after they spent money sending me to private school for two years. I have seen it from both ends.

    CCSD needs to be split up. At least into 5 fully separate entities. I have also made the statement CCSD has produced an administrative bureaucracy large enough that new administrators would not need to be found…split the bureaucrats up along geographic lines as well. No need to let any go unless they don’t respond well to the new order. (And sell that taj mahal on Charleston)
    Get federal money out of local education, period.

    “Both are a little scary.” Only when they get too large. The old salt “too many cooks….” and that fits what I say above. Smaller groups lead to less propaganda and more useful direction for the community. I am certain there are examples where smaller groups turned out bad. I say those are anecdotal. By and large smaller groups do a better job educating their young and Massachusetts is a great example of that.

    One thing is certain from all that data…more money with no oversight only leads to more money.

  44. OK, let’s talk about using “my tax money” to support someone else’s choice. Would it be using “my tax money” if the local jurisdiction supports capitalization of its water and sewer works with a property tax but grants a break for the guy down the street who has a well and a septic tank?

    Is “my tax money” going to subsidize a family who chooses not to use the public school system in return for a tax break?

  45. Rincon says:

    I think you’re right on target Steve. As for tax money, it seems reasonable that parents who choose to pay all of the costs of their childrens’ education should not have to pay for the education of their neighbors. It could become problematic if an exodus occurs though.

  46. Steve says:

    April Fool?

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