Arnold Kling  

Education Outcomes and Spending

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An OECD report on comparative performance of high school students in different countries is receiving a lot of attention.


Overall, wealthier countries tend to do better in educational terms than poor nations, but there are exceptions: Korea's national income, for example, is 30 per cent below the OECD average but its students are among the best performers in OECD countries. Nor is high expenditure necessarily a key to success: a number of countries do well in terms of "value for money" in their education systems, including Australia, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Japan, Korea and the Netherlands, while some of the "big spenders" perform below the OECD average.

The United States is a prime example of a big spender with poor performance. Still, I think one should be careful about jumping to conclusions based on that. One of my pet peeves is that education research almost never measures "value added." That is, it is rare to take two similar groups of students, assign them randomly to different educational processes, and observe the differences in outcomes. Instead, we measure differences in outcomes.

The reality is that statisticians and educators believe that outcomes are determined to a large extent by factors outside of the education system. Genetic endowments are known to play a large role. Parental income usually correlates with educational attainment, but I wonder if income is a separate causal factor or a proxy for genetic factors.

In Montgomery County, Maryland, where I live, school officials routinely excuse poor outcomes at some schools on the basis of the low incomes of students. This is a politically acceptable excuse, but it is really a disguised expression of genetic determinism.

It will be a great day when some of the billions of dollars that the government spends on education go into research that measures value added rather than tantalizing but unscientific data on outcomes.

For Discussion. Could value added be measured effectively using statistical methods, or are actual controlled experiments necessary?


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TRACKBACKS (3 to date)
TrackBack URL: http://econlog.econlib.org/mt/mt-tb.cgi/164
The author at Newmark's Door in a related article titled http://newmarksdoor.typepad.com/mainblog/2004/12/arnold_kling_wo.html writes:
    Arnold Kling would like to see more educational research that would [Tracked on December 9, 2004 6:50 AM]
COMMENTS (4 to date)
Steve writes:

These reports are probably significant within +/- 15% at most. Why then is the big spending US 20th out of 28?

Our system is tied up in political knots and until Adam Smith's invisible hand is loosed, technology put to better use in the educational system, and parents and students take schooling more seriously we will only get relatively worse.

Ronnie Horesh writes:

Statistical methods can measure only the quantifiable aspects of either educational outcomes or value added. There is broad consensus that minimal levels of such objectively verifiable outcomes as literacy and numeracy are crucial. But when it comes to higher levels of achievement there is more room for diversity and subjectivity. Many parents would be happy to trade off some measurable 'value-added' in favour of, for instance, a more sociable school environment. Parents can do their own research into the things that matter to them. Government should concentrate on measuring and ensuring 100 per cent literacy, numeracy and other basic knowledge and skills.

Lawrance George Lux writes:

The only real 'Value-added' approach is to compare Parents' and Children's incomes at each year of their Worklife, adjusted for Inflation. The Technological advances need not be considered, because they were developed by the educationally-derived skills of Parents and Children. lgl

anonymous writes:

I think David Card (Berkely) tackled that problem in the 90s by using an IV-estimator, i.e. controling for "inputs" while evaluation education "output".

See for instance his: http://www.nber.org/papers/w4832

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