Harvard/Education Next Study Shows MD Student Achievement Not Tied to Increased Spending

Maryland students had the steepest overall growth trend on reading, math, and science, scores in the United States according to a Harvard/Education Next studycomparing achievement growth between U.S. and international students.
That is welcome news, and a credit to our students, teachers, and parents.
However, come budget time, Governor O’Malley and the state’s education establishment will invariably wave this report (and the flawed Education Week reports ranking Maryland schools first in the nation) as proof we must continue to spend billions more on K-12 education.
What Governor O’Malley, and the press it appears, aren’t eager to tell you is that the authors of the Harvard/Education Next report explicitly state, “variation in state increases in per-pupil expenditure is not significantly correlated with the variation in learning gains.” 
Indeed, if you read Liz Bowie’s Baltimore Sun story on the report you’ll find Maryland State Board of Education spokesman Bill Rinehard citing the state’s “commitment to education funding” as a reason for the success. Apparently Rinehard and Bowie missed page 17 of the report where the authors state:

According to another popular theory, additional spending on education will yield gains in test scores. To see whether expenditure theory can account for the interstate variation, we plotted test-score gains against increments in spending between 1990 and 2009. As can be seen from the scattering of states into all parts of Figure 9, the data offer precious little support for the theory. Just about as many high-spending states showed relatively small gains as showed large ones. Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Jersey enjoyed substantial gains in student performance after committing substantial new fiscal resources. But other states with large spending increments—New York, Wyoming, and West Virginia, for example—had only marginal test-score gains to show for all that additional expenditure. And many states defied the theory by showing gains even when they did not commit much in the way of additional resources. It is true that spending and achievement gains have a slight positive relationship, but the 0.12 correlation between new expenditure and test-score gain is of no statistical or substantive significance. On average, an additional $1,000 in per-pupil spending is associated with a trivial annual gain in achievement of one-tenth of 1 percent of a standard deviation. [Emphasis mine]   

Furthermore, economist Eric Hanushek, one of the report’s authors has consistently demonstrated the lack of correlation between increased education spending and higher student achievement.  The massive increase in total K-12 spending hasn’t helped, as this chart from Andew J. Coulson of CATO shows flat test scores from 1970 to 2010. 

Remember that the ostensible goal of the 2002 Bridge to Excellence, or Thornton law, was to close achievement gaps between White and minority students, and low-income students and their wealthier peers.  Since 2002 test scores among all groups have increased.  However, the achievement gaps have widened despite the billions of increased taxpayer money poured into the schools.  Perhaps that may be a byproduct of more than half the spending increases going to teacher salaries and benefits instead of the classroom.
Even the latest Education Week Quality Counts report, which ranked Maryland schools tops in the nation, shows the state ranks dead last in the poverty gap for 8thgrade math.  Furthermore, according to a report from the Maryland Higher Education Commission, 61 percent of core community college students (those who took a college preparatory track in high school) needed remedial math instruction. Fifteen percent of core students attending a Maryland four-year institution needed remedial math instruction.
K-12 education is the largest line item in a state budget with chronic billion dollar plus deficits.  So why, given that we know more money in does not equal better-educated kids out, are bloated education budgets sacrosanct? 
It’s obviously not about the kids. 

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