Spending doubles in 30 years

Education expert dispels money myth

America has doubled the amount it spends on public education over the last 30 years with negligible increases in student performance, according to a noted scholar and researcher.

Professor Jay P. Greene, chairman of the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, recently discussed his book, "Education Myths: What Special Interest Groups Want You To Believe About Our Schools And Why It Isn’t So," at a February Issues & Ideas luncheon in Lansing attended by educators, business owners and policymakers.

"There is a centrality of belief, the myth that the current problems in education are due to a lack of funding," Greene said. "Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with having more money. As a general rule it’s better to have more money than less money. But the evidence tells us there is no good relationship between additional resources and student achievement."

Greene joked that even National Public Radio accepts an "advertisement" from a foundation that says it served under-funded city schools.

"How do we know they’re under-funded?" Greene asked. "People buy into the myth because they have no idea how much we actually spend."

Greene said figures from the U.S. Department of Education show that American taxpayers spend about $10,000 per pupil per year on K-12 public education. With 50 million students nationwide, that amounts to roughly $500 billion a year.

"The president’s national defense budget proposal for next year is about $439 billion," Greene said. "There may be some supplemental money for Iraq, about $50 billion, but basically we spend more on education than we do on national defense, even in wartime."

Greene said another way to think of such a large amount of money is to consider that it is more than the entire value of goods and services produced in Russia each year when converted into U.S. dollars.

"No matter how you look at it, it’s a lot more than we used to spend," Greene said. "Adjusted for inflation, we have doubled the amount spent on public education in the last 30 years."

What has the additional spending gotten us, Greene asks?

"Basically there has been no change in student skills during that time."

High school seniors, who are the end result of the process, show statistically insignificant increases on the National Assessment for Educational Progress. Greene calls the NAEP the best long-term gauge for studying student performance.

"Any industry that would spend twice as much money and not produce any more would be out of business," Greene said. "Normally, in industry, the pattern is to spend less and produce more. We have a productivity crisis in education."

Greene did say the NAEP results are flat, rather than down, which is a good sign.

"That can be reassuring, but only slightly reassuring," he said. "Because while we have stayed flat, everyone else has moved up."

Greene said other industrialized countries that used to lag the U.S. have surpassed us, while even non-industrialized nations – he used China and India as examples – have begun to catch up.

Greene briefly mentioned another myth addressed in his book while talking about the lack of increase or decrease in student performance.

"People say kids are dumber now and education was much more rigorous ‘when I was a kid,’ but that’s simply not the case," he noted.