Saturday, April 29, 2006

Educating From the Bench: Judges order legislators to spend more on schools, and taxpayers see less in return

Spending on public schools nationwide has skyrocketed to $536 billion as of the 2004 school year, or more than $10,000 per pupil. That's more than double per pupil what we spent three decades ago, adjusted for inflation--and more than we currently spend on national defense ($494 billion as of 2005). But the argument behind lawsuits in 45 states is that we don't spend nearly enough on schools. Spending is so low, these litigants claim, that it is in violation of state constitutional provisions requiring an "adequate" education. And in almost half the states, the courts have agreed.

Arkansas is one such state, and its "adequacy" problem neatly illustrates the way courts have driven spending up and evidence out. In 2001 the state Supreme Court declared the amount of money spent at that time--more than $7,000 per pupil--in violation of the state constitutional requirement to provide a "general, suitable and efficient" system of public education. Like courts in other states, Arkansas's court ordered that outside consultants be hired to determine how much extra funding would be required for an adequate education.

A firm led by two education professors, Lawrence Picus and Allan Odden, was paid $350,000 to put a price tag on what would be considered adequate. In September 2003 Messrs. Picus and Odden completed their report, concluding that Arkansas needed to add $847.3 million to existing school budgets. They also recommended policy changes, but the only thing that really mattered, at least as far as the court was concerned, was the bottom line--bringing the total to $4 billion, or $9,000 per pupil.

One might think that relying on court-ordered experts would be more rational and responsible than leaving spending decisions to politicians. The exact opposite is the case. For all of their defects, legislators can be held responsible for wasting taxpayer dollars, while courts and the consultants they mandate generally cannot. This gives courts and consultants license to use pseudoscience to drive education spending higher, where legislators might be more skeptical and frugal.

The Picus and Odden report is a perfect example. To determine adequate spending they rely on what they immodestly call the "evidence-based" approach. This involves selectively embracing educational practices that some research finds beneficial and costing those policies out. Their method does not address whether their favored reforms would really result in an adequate education or are in fact the most cost-effective. This approach is about as "evidence-based" as the one employed by the diet-crazy person who comes across a study that says olive oil is healthy and decides to sprinkle it on everything he eats. There is some evidence to support it, but is it really the most sensible and effective way to assure "adequate" health?

But the most obvious sign the Picus and Odden report is not really evidence-based is its neglect of empirical examination of the overall relationship between school spending and student achievement. If spending more is the answer to inadequate education, it should be the case that schools that spend more per pupil, all else being equal, have higher student achievement.

As it turns out, they don't. The vast majority of social science studies find no relationship between spending and student achievement. My own analysis of schools in Arkansas finds that schools with more money perform no better than schools with less once student and community background characteristics are controlled. And the fact that per pupil spending has doubled over the past three decades while student achievement has remained stagnant ought to give us a clue that simply spending more won't fix schools. The shortcomings of schools are not generally attributable to the lack of resources, but to a lack of incentives to use resources effectively.

By declaring that spending had to increase, the court foreclosed consideration of this relevant evidence. And by requiring the Legislature to base the size of the increase on the recommendations of consultants, the court privileged the spending level preferred by the consultants over those that other experts might recommend or that legislators might want. If legislators did not increase spending by roughly what Messrs. Picus and Odden asserted, they would be held in violation of the court order.

Yet even this wasn't enough. After the total amount provided to Arkansas schools increased by 25% in one year, the legislature slowed the pace of spending. For the 2005 school year, money was added to the teacher health plan and school construction funds, but the minimum amount that school districts would receive for operating expenses (excluding capital and categorical money) was left unchanged at $5,400. The plaintiff attorneys argued before the state high court that spending had to at least match inflation.

The court agreed and ordered the governor to call the Legislature in special session to remedy the situation. Legislators met in early April and in less than a week increased spending again. They were so eager to placate the court that they gave schools more for the current school year, even though it could hardly do any good with only a month remaining. They also increased spending without knowing how the last round of additional money was being used or whether it had any effect. Messrs. Picus and Odden were retained for another $450,000 to provide this information, but their report is not expected until August.

One legislative leader attempted to justify their haste by declaring, "Lack of information does not justify legislative procrastination." Doesn't it? What information we do have suggests that schools haven't been able to digest the new influx very well. Unspent reserves as of October 2005 were $1.1 billion, more than 25% of the total budget. That is, schools can't even spend the additional money fast enough as the court orders more.

In Arkansas, as in too many other states, elected leaders have ceded control over the size of education budgets to unaccountable courts. Judges and the consultants they require are not easily held responsible for misusing evidence or wasting taxpayer dollars. As long as this continues, expect to spend more on education and see less in return.



Undoubtedly a deplorable record of failure but with huge numbers of Hispanics who barely speak English and lots of blacks, what can you expect? The graduation rate of whites is respectable -- as well it should be, given the rockbottom standards

A new study found that barely half of Los Angeles Unified School District students receive their high school diplomas, mirroring a Harvard University study a year ago that alarmed city officials and fueled debate over the district's effectiveness. The LAUSD ranks 86th out of the nation's 100 largest school districts in its graduation rate - lower than districts in Alabama, Louisiana and Arkansas - according to the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research study funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

And the results were even bleaker for the district's minority students. Blacks had a 55 percent graduation rate and Latinos, 44 percent, compared with 77 percent among whites and 80 percent among Asians. The district's Latino males had the lowest graduation rates at 39 percent, followed by black males at 49 percent.

"It's pretty bad. Large districts in general are doing less well and Los Angeles is toward the bottom of that list," said Jay Greene, co-author of the study and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. The national average is a 70 percent graduation rate. The study looked at how many students entered high school in 1999 and how many regular diplomas were awarded in 2003.

Greene said the region's challenging demographic profile can't be blamed for the problem. "We can see that demography is not destiny looking at some of the districts who have managed to produce success with minority students," he said. The California Department of Education puts the LAUSD's graduation rate at 65.7 percent for 2003 - a number district officials expect to increase by as much as 10 percentage points by next year. "All these rates ... are all estimates. Depending on how you use the formula, you come up with a different number," said Esther Wong, assistant superintendent of planning, assessment and research at the district. "I think educators should use it as a guide until a better system is in place."

In a bid to boost graduation rates, the district is developing Diploma Project, which would lower class size, assign counselors to follow up on students not coming to school, and create a more personalized middle and high school experience, Wong said.

The Harvard study, which concluded that more than half of the LAUSD's students failed to finish high school in a recent four-year period, became the source of much debate in the city. Political leaders, including Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, seized on the figures to push agendas for reform ranging from mayoral takeover of the district to its breakup. "The Los Angeles school district can no longer dispute the fact that we have a dropout crisis in our public schools," the mayor's spokeswoman, Janelle Erickson, said. "This new study ... supports Mayor Villaraigosa's belief that we need new leadership at every level in our schools."

More here


For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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1 comment:

City girl in Alaska said...

I agree that throwing money at the problem of underperforming schools is not the answer. I work in a public school that currently spends $4,995 per student per year, but because we are a Title One school we get additional federal funds. I'm not sure how much money we get, but do know for a fact that we had to rush to spend $70,000 two weeks ago that our principal 'forgot' to spend. The urgency of the situation was increased because last year he forgot to spend $60,000 and had to give it back to Title One. We wound up buying alot of stuff that maybe we didn't really need, such as tanagram tiles and other math manipulatives which I have often seen go unused. What we could have used the money for was a new copier machine, and copy paper, but that didn't qualify under what Title One wanted to purchase. Maybe we could have used those funds to get a more qualified and efficient front office staff. But once again, Title One likes to 'help' as they see fit. So now we are getting $70,000 worth of crap that I doubt will help these children much. Thanks for the help, Title One.

So glad I pay taxes!