Why Conventional Wisdom on Education Reform is Wrong (a primer)

Corey Keysor:

Spending is the guiding principle for how most people make sense of education policy. We have very high expectations for what our public schools need to offer and, on top of that, we frequently assume that reform means more spending.

This spiral has led to the United States spending more than almost any other developed country despite having poor relative rankings on international measures of education quality. This misconception drives a lot of the dysfunction and gluttony in the system. We can’t just spend our way out of education problems. We’ve tried and it’s led to education being one of the largest parts of the US federal budget despite the fact that most of us are dissatisfied with the results.

A common misconception about US education is that the property-tax based funding of local school districts makes it so that poor students are underfunded relative to non-poor students. There’s some truth to this statement. A lot of districts do fund schools based on property taxes and there are large differences in school funding between states. This spending disparity closely matches the actual educational ranking of the states. This, again, makes it look like poorer students are being left out to dry, and although that is the case in some cases, on average US school funding is somewhat progressive.

The combination of state, local, and federal school funding makes it so that the districts attended by poor students are funded 2.5% more than non-poor students. And even within districts, “schools with less advantaged students spend at least as much (and often significantly more).”