Arnold Kling  

Difference-Makers in Education

On Greece... Tell Me the Value of a Fake Ha...

Matt Yglesias writes,

Sometimes I hear from union-affiliated folks that it's unfair to attribute differences in student learning to differences in teacher skill, because everyone knows that socioeconomic and home environment factors drive a lot of this. Other times I see the American Federation of Teachers building a messaging program around the idea that its members are Making A Difference Every Day.

Thanks to Alex Tabarrok for the pointer.

On the topic of educators making a difference, the local paper compares the state of our schools before and after the tenure of our rock-star superintendent, Jerry Weast.

Per Pupil Spending (just Operating Budget Divided By Enrollment):

Fiscal 2000: $8,460 [note: translates to $11, 475 in 2011 dollars]

Fiscal 2011: $14,580

Graduation Rate (using Maryland Leaver Rate):

1999: 91.49%

2010: 90.01%

Related, there is the story More Montgomery schools fall short of state standards.

So, basically, Weast raised per-pupil spending by 25 percent more than inflation, and got pretty much no results to show for it.

It seems to me that it is relatively easy to get people to come around to the view that more health care spending does not necessarily improve health outcomes. But it is really, really hard to get people to come around to the view that more education spending does not necessarily improve education outcomes.

And I don't believe people want to think through their beliefs. I had a Matt Yglesias moment when I asked an incumbent of the school board what he thought accounted for the huge disparity in college attendance between the high schools in Potomac and those in my area. He gave me a litany of factors having nothing to do with schools. Yet he was all about increasing school spending.

Robin Hanson famously says that spending on medical services is all about "showing that you care." I believe that the same holds for spending on education. It's about showing good intent, not about obtaining results.

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COMMENTS (7 to date)
Mark writes:

From the National Science Foundation (

"No direct correlation can be made between spending and academic performance. Several states that ranked in the lower two quartiles of this indicator ranked in the upper quartiles of the National Assessment of Educational Progress indicators."

B writes:

How to show you care most about the children.

eric writes:

Teachers ARE making a difference every day. Nevertheless, you are exactly right, spending more money will not noticeably change outcomes. We should support teachers' unions because kids spend much of their time in school, the people who work in schools should be treated humanely, and unions are a reasonable way to make sure that workers are treated decently. Just because most of the main factors in student performance have nothing to do with schools or teachers doesn't mean that teachers' unions are bad. If we want to improve educational outcomes, a good way to do it would be to build a more equitable society. Looking around the world, it strikes me that libertarianism is probably the worst possible way to do that...

Costard writes:

New teachers are paid peanuts to work long hours, courtesy of unions that worship at the altar of seniority. How delightfully Orwellian, this brand of equity.

I have to ask, eric: where exactly are you looking? And how does it smell?

Gregg Rader writes:

This link shows yearly education spending per pupil in the U.S. Your observation applies nation wide.

Sam writes:

Putting more money into education is really just putting more money into health benefits and pension fundin, so of course there is no return.

But, I would imagine that paying higher starting salaries would encourage more recent college grad applications. Sorting through more applications should yield better teachers, and thus better educational outcomes.

Has somebody studies the effects of transferring some of the present value of future benefits toincreasing starting salaries? Isn't this what a lot of private schools do, and isn't it working?

Granite26 writes:

What portion of the budget increase is due to staffing costs?

Is it possible that the sorts of generic life-skills we teach students are getting more expensive? It used to be that a desk and a chalkboard was all you needed to be state of the art. That's certainly not true anymore.

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