More Money Has Not Improved Government Schooling

Another popular means of attempting to improve public education is through resource-based reforms.  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 Equality of Educational Opportunity (better known as "The Coleman Report") in 1966.[51]  James 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.

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:  More money does not equal better education.  There are schools, states, and countries (especially the United States) that spend a great deal of money per pupil with poor results, while others spend much less and get much better results.[52]

Yet, despite this and subsequent findings, many lawmakers and educators continue to believe that additional resources and funding will somehow solve the problems within the government education system.  As cited earlier, total revenues for government schools have dramatically increased yet SAT scores dropped by 27 points during the same time period.[53]

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 teacher 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 even less student integration than before the spending spree, not more.[54]  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.[55]

While resource allocation and management are very important, changes in these areas have failed to significantly improve the quality of education delivered by government schools.

[51]       James S. Coleman.  Equality of Educational Opportunity (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1966).

[52]       Eric A. Hanushek and Dongwook Kim.  "Schooling, labor force quality, and economic growth." Working Paper 5399, National Bureau of Economic Research, December 1995.

[53]      U.S. Department of Education.  National Center for Education Statistics.  Digest of Education Statistics, 1999, NCES 2000-031, May 2000, Table 160 & 135.

[54]      Paul Ciotti.  "Money and School Performance: Lessons from the Kansas City Desegregation Experiment," Policy Analysis No. 298, Cato Institute, 16 March 1998.

[55]       Dirk Johnson, "`F' for Kansas City Schools Adds to the District's Woes," The New York Times, 3 May 2000.