(Michael Chamberlain/Nevada Business Coalition) – Big government advocates continue to tug at our heartstrings to convince us to pour even larger amounts of money into pubic education. Those who see a government solution for every problem, self-interested parties and some well-meaning souls implore our Legislature to simply commit more cash to the cause. Others are demanding real reform rather than simply spending more money in the hope it will pay off for our students.
It’s not as though the state has not increased funding for education in the past. According to the Department of Education’s own data, from the 1959-1960 school year to 2006-2007, per pupil funding in the Silver State increased 280%, after adjusting for inflation. Yet student performance has not significantly improved.
Nor have federal dollars helped. The Department of Education has spent more than $1.5 trillion in the last 30 years and still our young people, both across the county and in Nevada, are no better prepared when they leave school than they were before the DofEd existed.
Still, with all this, there are some who claim the way to improve education is to increase funding. They point to other states that spend more than Nevada and get better results. However, they ignore those states that spend much more and whose achievement is worse as well as those that spend less but whose students perform better.
For decades the taxpayers of Nevada and across the United States have dumped increasing amounts of money into public education. As the financial commitment has grown, more and more of the money and the decisions have been removed from those closest to the students to big buildings in far away places. The education system has done a better job of providing jobs for adults than it has of providing education for children, even though educating children is supposed to be its primary mission.
To demonstrate how little the amount of money has to do with educational achievement, we performed an analytical exercise using data from the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.
Using the average scale scores for 2007 for 4th and 8th Grade Reading, 4th and 8th Grade Math and comparing with current expenditures per pupil for 2005-2006 for each state, it turns out that the length of a state’s name may have a stronger relationship to student achievement than the amount of money spent. (See image.) Furthermore, at least in this example, as students get older the correlation between the length of the state’s name and its student performance gets stronger while the correlation between spending and achievement gets weaker.
In other words, if the purpose is to help our children learn, we might be better off changing our name to “Nev” rather than spending more money on public education.
Certainly, some might consider this calculation frivolous and it probably appeals to only a few math geeks. But it helps to illustrate that school reform is about much more than money, despite what big government advocates and members of the education establishment would like us to believe.
When it comes to education, Nevadans need to demand real reform and real results. Pouring more and more money into education has not helped our children. Now, with one of the worst budget crises in our history, we can no longer afford it.
(Michael Chamberlain is Executive Director of Nevada Business Coalition.)