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Does Spending More On Education Improve Test Scores?
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January 05, 2011, 03:47 PM
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Conservatives have been saying for a long time that spending more on schools doesn`t raise test scores: just look at how much D.C. spends per student or how much the U.S. spends versus Finland.

But Tino at Super-Economy crunches the test scores (PISA internationally and NAEP in the U.S.) after adjusting for demographics, and finds positive correlations between spending and test scores:

However the left in the United States doesn`t use this argument, because they are ideologically averse to demographic adjustments having to do with race and ethnicity (most of them consider all statistical generalizations about race and ethnicity somehow offensive, regardless of why you are doing it).

The result of liberals` political correctness is that they are depriving themselves of a very important argument in a very important debate.

True, but there are other adjustments that need to be made, such as for cost-of-living and/or wealth. Compared to Mississippi, New Jersey has expensive public schools, but then it`s an expensive place to live full of expensive people. In Tino`s comments, I suggest a few methodological wrinkles he should add.

In general, Americans spend a lot of money on schools. The architecture and landscaping of American colleges, for example, is often absurdly lavish. Do expensive buildings raise, say, LSAT scores among individual undergrads, as opposed to attracting better applicants?

Probably not much. Other reasons are more important, such as social climbing, monument building, regional pride, and so forth. One reason that`s often overlooked is that school isn`t just preparation for life, it is part of life. For example, Rice has a lavish campus due to the generosity of some rich people and I appreciated my four years admiring the aesthetics that they had arranged for my edification. Similarly, one point of hiring high quality teachers is to have your kids talked to by high quality people.

A reader writes:

http://www.ets.org/Media/Tests/GRE/pdf/gre_0910_guide_extended_table4.pdf

Of the 8,320 people who took the GRE between July 1, 2005, and June 30, 2008, and indicated that Secondary Education was their chosen field of graduate study, exactly *zero* scored an 800 on the verbal test.

Of the 5,901 people who indicated that Elementary Education was their chosen field of study, *zero* scored an 800 on the verbal test.

And of the 1,521 people who indicated that Early Childhood Education was their chosen field of study, *zero* scored an 800 on the verbal test.

If you widen the net to catch those in the 700-790 range, the results aren`t much better. I think this supports the conventional wisdom (or is it the conventional unconventional wisdom?) that teaching in the U.S. is low-status and low-pay, so it inevitably attracts the low performers among the college-educated. Improving the quality of our public schools is contingent upon changing the composition of the teaching pool.

I scored an 800 on the GRE verbal section, but I attend, however improbably, a mid-tier education school in a master`s program. Most classes are a waste of time, and insulting to my intelligence, to boot. I was dismayed enough last fall to send off a fusillade of applications to law schools and PhD programs in history. I will do a round of student teaching at a Chicago public magnet school, and then probably bolt.