More Money Doesn’t Mean Better Education

Comparing Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development countries, which are usually economically advanced, shows that educational spending was a poor predictor of student scores on the Program for International Student Assessment. New Zealand, for example, had per pupil spending below the OECD average and excelled. Poland and Estonia, on the other hand, spent far less than the U.S. and achieved comparative results on the exam.

Only 9 percent of the variation in test scores could be attributed to spending on education while factors like parents’ educational background could explain 45 percent of the variation. The PISA study found a high correlation between teacher pay and increased test scores, implying that perhaps American teachers are not adequately compensated. Finland and South Korea, for example, routinely recruit from the highly educated to be teachers. Teacher quality appears to be a far more important and cost-effective reform than simply reducing class sizes.

Rather than worrying about increasing funding, it is more important to be concerned with how it is allocated. A survey in 2010 by Stuart Yeh of the University of Minnesota found that simply increasing per-pupil spending by 10 percent was not a cost-effective way of increasing scores compared to reforms like computer-assisted instruction or cross-age tutoring, which not only increased educational achievement, but was also cheaper, since older students did not need to be paid a high wage to tutor younger students.

Another cheap reform is a method called rapid assessment, in which students are tested two to five times a week in math and reading, providing immediate feedback for teachers on where students are performing poorly.

A study in the American Educational Research Journal concluded that equality of opportunity could be more important than funding in itself. The top-scoring countries of South Korea, Finland and Hong Kong all equally funded each student. Further, each country’s educational system mixed families with different socioeconomic statuses within their schools. Issues like this are more important in the U.S., where equality of opportunity is also hindered by racial bias.

Addressing socioeconomic bias is necessary as study after study show that one’s family’s socioeconomic status is one of the biggest determinants of student achievement. Devoting the best teachers to wealthy districts may further entrench educational inequality.

Education reform is obviously a very complex issue with many studies offering different conclusions, but taxpayers clamoring for more education funding need to determine if current funding is already allocated fairly and how that future spending should be used. Prop 30, for example, is only a stop-gap measure which should remind us real reform is necessary.

One must also be wary of fueling educational inequities by blindly increasing funding without focusing on the worst-off districts. The children of the rich are not suffering in America’s education system, but rather the most destitute whose parents cannot afford the same opportunities the rich do.