As the Chicago Teacher’s Union strike has come to a close, one of the key issues that seems to keep popping up is the discussion over whether schools need more resources or not. It was one of the teacher’s unions major planks in their quest to get more books, improved facilities, an expanded curriculum and more social workers in their schools – yes it’s true, the entire strike was not solely about salaries or evaluation methods (in fact, click here for what CTU lists as their points of negotiation and where the agreement ended up).
But many out there are asking the question: More resources?!?!
And the reason for this is that it has become a common refrain that our schools have gotten more and more resources, but student performance has barely budged. In fact, one of the key phrases that is tossed around is that as David Brooks so aptly put it:
Over the past 50 years, spending on K-12 education has also skyrocketed. In 1960, Americans spent roughly $2,800 per student, in today’s dollars. Now we spend roughly $11,000 per student. This spending binge has not produced comparable gains in student outcomes.
Or as a friend of mine stated to me in response to the article, student test scores are “flatlining…while spending per student has gone up 300% adjusting for inflation.”
The problem is…that’s just not true.
The figures that Brooks and my friend were referring to are from the US DOE National Center for Education Statistics. A graph of this data shows the following trend:
Then compare that to student test scores:
Scores have indeed flatlined…since 1990. Looking at White students, you could make the case they’ve flatlined for even longer. But spending for student hasn’t increased much since 1990 either.
In fact, from my vantage point the spending and test scores are moving fairly much in tandem. Since 1990, spending per student has increased by 33% (or 2% annually!) and test scores have been relatively flat for all races and ethnicities as well. Contrast that with pre-1990 and spending per student did indeed increase by almost 300% from 1960-1990. Similarly, test scores increased significantly over that time.
Now this is not an apologia to say that no work is to be done on education. In fact, it’s an extremely important issue to focus on, certainly in my top 3. It’s not even meant to say that resources can’t and shouldn’t be used more efficiently in order to get more productivity from each dollar that is spent on education in US public schools. They can and they should.
It’s more to point out the fact that resources do indeed matter and anyone saying otherwise and dropping lines like, “this spending binge has not produced comparable gains in student outcomes”, isn’t looking at the data. It seems quite ironic then that those that are largely blind to this are the education reformers who like to position themselves as having their decision making driven by testing and statistical data.
(By the way…can we figure out what happened in the 1980s that produced such significant student progress?)