Monday, November 20, 2006

The Blackboard Hustle - Periodically we are treated to the spectacle of jurists attempting to act as legislators in deciding exactly how much a municipality should spend to educate it's students. Today's exhibit "A" comes from the NYT. In a 4-2 decision, the New York state Court of Appeals ruled that an additional $1.93 billion must be spent annually on the education of New York City school children. According to the story, the amount specified in the ruling was less than the $4.7 billion mandated by lower courts.

But again, we have seen this movie before. Most of these efforts to increase per-pupil spending are at least well-intentioned, if not misguided; they all appear focused on closing the "performance gap" between urban and suburban school districts.
Most Americans are aware of the liberal canon regarding the obstacles that black students face in terms of classroom achievement, not the least of which are, in the Left’s view, low teacher expectations, high class sizes, a disparity in per pupil spending between inner city and suburban schools, and a lack of a culturally relevant curriculum.

Conventional wisdom tells us that the biggest disparities in per pupil spending exist between majority black inner-city and mostly white suburban metropolitan schools. But data from a December 2002 General Accounting Office report suggest that there is no consistent pattern of higher per-pupil spending between inner-city and suburban schools. The inner-city schools that the GAO reviewed generally spent more per pupil than suburban schools in Boston, Chicago and St. Louis. On the other hand, suburban schools in Fort Worth and New York spent more per pupil than the inner city schools. In Denver and Oakland, spending differences between urban and suburban schools were mixed.

Also, the available Census data seem to suggest that the biggest consistent disparities in per-pupil spending are between metropolitan school districts and rural school districts (which are usually majority white.) In any event, there seems to be little relationship between per-pupil spending and academic performance, as evidenced by the amount of money spent in Washington, D.C. versus other areas, and the associated performance on standardized tests. The fact of the matter is that whatever the factors are that impact student performance, per-pupil spending is not among them. Were there any sort of linkage, most black students would outperform a sizable plurality of white students, based upon nationwide differences in education spending between urban and rural areas.

In every instance where increased per-pupil spending has been mandated, particularly by judicial fiat, there has been no observable increase in student performance. Whether it's been the Kansas City, Missouri school system or New Jersey's Abbott Districts, no improvement in educational outcomes has manifested itself.
But even if such improvements were evident, it still seems that educators have no idea how much improvement might accrue from a specific increase in expenditures. Legislators and school administrators also seem to have no idea of where best to deploy education dollars. Do we stand to reap our greatest reward by spending on new textbooks or new buildings, better trained teachers or more competent principals? Are we best served by spending monies on universal pre-school programs, K-8 education or on more academic rigor in high schools?

To be sure, these are not merely theoretical concerns, as, at least for African Americans, the opportunity to receive a high-quality education is the last civil right yet to be won. The fact that the educationistas do not have good answers to these questions undercuts the Left’s arguments for unchecked increased in education spending.

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