". . . there is no consistent link between a district's spending per child and student performance."
Resource-based reforms have attempted to improve schools. They include such measures as increased funding, new textbooks, wiring schools for Internet access, renovating or updating school facilities, reducing class sizes (more teachers per pupil), and other measures that require greater financial expenditures.
Scholars have studied the relationship between per-student spending and achievement test scores since the publication of the Equality of Educational Opportunity (better known as "The Coleman Report") in 1966.6 Coleman, a leading sociologist, concluded that factors such as per-pupil spending and class size do not have a significant impact on student achievement scores.
Yet, despite this and subsequent findings, many lawmakers and educators continue to believe that additional resources and funding will somehow eventually solve the problems within the education system.
Economist Erik Hanushek and others have replicated Coleman's study and even extended it to international studies of student achievement, and the finding of 31 years of research is clear: Better education cannot be bought. There are schools, states, and countries that spend a great deal of money per pupil with poor results (such as the United States), while others spend much less and get much better results.7
However, lawmakers tend to ignore the evidence. In Michigan, the legislature continues to increase school funding in the hope of improving education. Expressed in current dollars, revenues for Michigan government education increased by nearly 250 percent between 1977 and 1997, from $4 billion to $14.3 billion.8
The Detroit News special report previously cited reminded readers that although "[s]ome of the biggest spenders [among school districts] finished in the top 10 . . . there is no consistent link between a district's spending per child and student performance."9
Once again, the top-ranking school district in Metro Detroit, Birmingham, spends $9,997 per student (4th-highest spending district in Metro Detroit), while Inkster Public Schools in Wayne County spends nearly as much, or $9,715 per student (5th-highest spending district in Metro Detroit). The difference of $282 certainly cannot account for the wide disparity in academic outcomes between the two districts. Eleventh-graders in Birmingham score an aggregate of 91.5 points on the math, reading, science, and writing tests of the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) while Inkster students score only 26.8 points.10
The Kansas City (Missouri) School District provides the perfect illustration of the inefficacy of increasing resources to improve academic and social outcomes. In 1985, a federal judge directed the district to devise a "money-is-no-object" educational plan to improve the education of black students and encourage desegregation. Local and state taxpayers were ordered to fund this experiment.
The result: Kansas City spent more money per pupil, on a cost-of-living adjusted basis, than any of the 280 largest school districts in the United States. The money bought 15 new schools, an Olympic-sized swimming pool with an underwater viewing room, television and animation studios, a 25-acre wildlife sanctuary, a zoo, a robotics lab, field trips to Mexico and Senegal, and higher teachers' salaries. The student-to-teacher ratio was the lowest of any major school district in the nation at 13-to-1. By the time the experiment ended in 1997, costs had mounted to nearly $2 billion.
Yet, test scores did not rise. And there was less student integration than before, rather than more.11 In May 2000, the Missouri Board of Education officially removed accreditation status from the district for failing to meet any of 11 performance standards. The loss of accreditation means the district has two years to raise test scores, improve graduation rates and make progress in other areas or face the prospect of a takeover by the state.12
While resource allocation and management are very important, changes in these areas have failed repeatedly to improve the quality of education delivered by public schools. Yet, putting more money into government education continues to be a popular reform measure, one particularly important to special-interest groups that benefit from increased expenditures.