Funding schools doesn’t help students learn

What could possibly account for the disparity between the United States’ spending more than any other country when it comes to education, and the lack of increased performance?  If you listen to our politicians, it’s because we are not spending enough on our country’s “most valuable resource”.

A new study confirms what economists have been saying for years: there is no correlation between how much we spend on education and school funding and how well students learn and perform.

(Fox News) — For decades, it’s probably the most troublesome question facing education: Why are results for U.S. public school students so mediocre, despite the billions of taxpayer dollars spent?

Andrew Coulson thinks he’s got the answer: Because there is no discernible correlation between spending and outcomes.

“The takeaway from this study is that what we’ve done over the past 40 years hasn’t worked,” said Coulson, director of the Center For Educational Freedom at the CATO Institute. “The average performance change nationwide has declined 3 percent in mathematical and verbal skills. Moreover, there’s been no relationship, effectively, between spending and academic outcomes.”

The CATO Institute is a free-market think-tank based in Washington, D.C.

Coulson just released his study, “State Education Trends: Academic Performance and Spending over the Past 40 Years,” and he points to this chart that incorporates costs and the number of public school employees with student enrollment and test scores:

While spending has just about tripled in inflation-adjusted dollars and the number of school employees has almost doubled since 1970, reading, math and science scores for students have remained stagnant.

Since 1970 we have been pouring billions of dollars into education with no tangible change.  If our politicians are to be believed,  if we only spend a little more we could get little Johnny to improve those math and science scores.

Spending isn’t the the, student discipline is.  Unfortunately, no one gets elected to the Board of Education addressing the true issue which is two-fold.

student performanceWhat student really need to hear fro their educators is: “Sit down, shut up, and pay attention”.  Teachers have been conditioned, by lawyers and unruly irresponsible parents mostly, to ignore problem children in the classroom.  They must tiptoe around the obvious.   Junior is failing because he does not pay attention and does not listen or respond to his teacher’s authority.  There are no “bad” kids anymore, just children who need a little more special attention.  Educators are reluctant to pull Junior out of class and tell him bluntly, “if you do not straighten up and fly right you will not amount to much in life”.  Junior will arrive home, head hung low, and tell his mother the teacher made him sad…and we can’t have Junior feeling sad, can we.

“Not sweet innocent Junior!” is the worst way a parent could possibly respond when hearing the news that Junior is a classroom nuisance.  Not only is it naive, but in all likelihood the blue-eyed darling angel is a problem at home as well, and the parents know it.  This response conditions Junior that he can act as he pleases and failure is someone else’s fault.  It sends the additional message that the educator’s response — and not Junior’s behavior — in wrong.  Thus Junior will continue through his education with this notion that the educator is to blame for any academic discipline incurred.

Catering to the child’s self-esteem over and above academic results sets the pace for their school career.  In the worst cases, lawyers are brought in to threaten educators into placating Junior’s parents, that they are singling him out among the other students.  It matters not that he is singled out because he is singly disrupting the class and refusing to learn.

While there will always be gainsayers, the truth is spending does not produce results.  The US continues to bring up the rear in student performance rankings and will so until we address the real problems facing our education of young people.  Increasing teacher salaries, purchasing newer and more expensive computers, or a new science lab will not make children smarter or produce better results; we need proper attitude and discipline.  Parents need to support teachers.  Recognize that Junior can be a hell-raiser at times, and that he just doesn’t care to learn, but then following through goes a long way.  Parental involvement in their child’s educational career is the key to success.


  1. I have no good things to say about the teachers unions or what their control over what is taught and how, has done to public education. But to distill the problem down to discipline is absolutely not true.

    It is two part. Firstly the lack of critical thinking skills taught from 4th grade on, and an ever lowered set of standards so retarded little Johnny can feel included as well.

    I have sat in too many classrooms over the last 20 years to be even remotely convinced that discipline is the problem.

    • Nash

      Why have the schools relaxed criticsl thinking skills and lowered the standards?

      If thats all true, scores should be higher even if they dont reach the rest of the world in ability. But the scores arent higher, even with lower standards kids still do poorly.

  2. paynehollow says:


    Teachers have been conditioned, by lawyers and unruly irresponsible parents mostly, to ignore problem children in the classroom.

    I have taught briefly. I went to public school and my kids have gone to public school. I have friends who teach and have done so for years. I have not seen this to be an issue anywhere. I did not see, have not heard of, teachers “ignoring” problem children.

    When I taught, I was in a special ed classroom specifically for “problem children,” – behavior and learning disordered. The existence of the classroom itself is evidence that we’re not “ignoring” the problems.

    No, few people are ignoring the problem. Now, whether or not we have the right answers to dealing with kids who are experiencing troubles, that is a good question. But “we’re ignoring it” has not been my experience, from a first hand perspective.


  3. paynehollow says:

    Teachers “ignoring” bad behavior? Well, I’m sorry that’s been your experience.

    I can say I’ve never seen a teacher ignoring bad behavior in 12 years in public schools as a student, in my children’s 12 years each in school, in my two years of working in school as a student teacher or in my year teaching. Nor have I ever heard of it from a first hand source, like my fellow teachers and friends.

    I have seen teachers not be sure what the best solution is for misbehavior, but not one time have I seen or heard of it being ignored.

    What city/state where you experiencing this bizarre behavior in?

    You should talk to your PTA and to your school board, if you have documented cases of this happening.


  4. paynehollow says:

    As to the premise of your title, you should know that there is research out there that would dispute the claim that higher spending does not help improve performance…

    Click to access school_funding.pdf



  5. China’s schools are more cost effective in that they can select which students to admit. Students need to compete for admission to the good schools. If a student does not meet the admission requirements they are not admitted, unlike schools here which have to accept all students. Also, their government pays half the cost and parents pay half through tuition. When parents pay they become more invested in the outcome.

    • Krausyaoj

      Youre right. When parents are financially involved they pay more attention. Thats why privatr school kids do so well here. Their parents are deeply involved and motivated to see them succeed

  6. I began reading Dan’s link, but had a problem immediately when it suggested that states that reported high SAT scores despite lower educational spending were able to make such reports because they only included results for high performing students. I didn’t notice an explanation for this, as of course higher scores would indicate higher performing students. Seems only reasonable. But it seemed it was worded to imply chicanery.

    So I googled the issue and found a 2008 Heritage Foundation report that seemed to break down the issue more completely, with a conclusion that it ain’t how much, but how efficiently money is spent on education. It looks at things like graduation rates remaining relatively unchanged despite constant increases in education spending from all levels of government. It also looks at the gap in graduation rates between whites, blacks and Hispanics and how the gaps also remain relatively unchanged despite money spent to reduce those differences. I think this report touches on more and perhaps better indicators regarding the level of success that increased educational spending has achieved (or NOT achieved).

    And then, if you continue to the end of the report, you’ll see a link appear at the bottom to a related article (a common thing at the Heritage site) from this year addressing the value of parental choice in education.

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