Test Scores Decline Despite Increased Education Spending
Employment in America’s K-12 public school system has increased rapidly since the 1950’s. Interestingly, this growth in the number of teachers and public school employees has significantly outpaced growth in the number of students attending public schools. In fact, between 1950 and 2009, growth in the number of public school employees has outpaced growth in the number of students by a rate of 4 to 1. Startlingly, a recent report from the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice discovered that there has been no evidence of improved academic outcomes over the past several decades, despite significant increases in public school staffing and spending.
The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice’s report analyzes the changes in public school staffing over time by examining annual data from the U.S. Department of Education. Over the 59-year period examined, the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) employees increased by 386 percent, while the number of students grew by just 96 percent. Within the public school system, the number of non-teaching personnel has increased by 702 percent, alongside a substantial 252 percent increase in the total number of teachers.
According to the study, this massive increase in the number of public school employees per student has produced disappointing results. Scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Long-Term Trend exam did not increase during the time period examined. Between 1992 and 2008, NAEP test scores fell slightly in the reading category, while mathematics scores remained stagnant. Over this same time period, growth in the number of public school employees outpaced student growth at a rate of 2 to 1. The study also cites research which shows that graduation rates peaked back in 1970, demonstrating that these significant increases in public school employment have not produced higher graduation rates.
It is important to note that among countries with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the U.S. ranks as one of the highest in K-12 spending. States and localities are the primary source of K-12 education funding. According to U.S. census data from 2010, total state and local government spending reached $3.1 trillion. Education made up $860 billion of those expenditures, or 28 percent of total state and local spending. Compared with other nations, U.S. public schools spend a significantly higher amount on non-teaching personnel and less on teachers. The study finds that if non-teaching personnel grew at the same rate as the number of students, public schools would save roughly $37.2 billion, even if growth in the number of teachers was allowed to outpace student growth at a rate of 1.5 to 1.
With state budgets tightening, these savings could be put to a variety of more efficient uses. The study recommends that the state could provide each child in poverty with a voucher worth more than $2,600 to attend the private school of his or her parents’ choice. The Friedman Foundation’s findings are consistent with the empirical evidence presented in ALEC’s 17th edition of the Report Card on American Education which analyzes state education rankings across the 50 states. Allowing parents to exercise greater choice over their child’s place of education will encourage schools to be more efficient, and focus on producing better results.