Read ‘Em and Weep Edureactionaries

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

There is a great deal of interesting material in the Hanushek, Peterson and Woessmann study on international/American state academic achievement. Below however is the chart from the Ed Next version that I found most interesting:

Focusing on the 4th Grade Mathematics exam between 1992 and 2009, the authors found that increasing spending does not have a strong relationship with improved student learning. Par for the course.

Take a close look at the top of the chart however in terms of the states making large gains and how much additional revenue per pupil they spent to get them.

The states showing the top gains (in order) are Maryland, Florida, Delaware and Massachusetts. MD, FL and DE essentially tie with MA slightly behind.

Notice however that the inflation adjusted spending per pupil increase in Florida between 1992 and 2009 was $1,000. In Delaware it was $3,000. Maryland looks near the midpoint between $4,000 and $5,000 so lets roughly call it $4,500. Massachusetts looks to be $5,000.

So Florida managed first class gains with a much smaller increase in funding. If I were to go and look up the numbers, we would find that Florida’s smaller increase also came from a smaller base- MD, DE and MA were all likely to have been outspending Florida in 1992 and then really outspending them in 2009.

It is also worth noting that Florida faces considerably greater demographic challenges than MD, DE or MA- far more free and reduced lunch eligible children, more ELL kids, and to the extent you want to factor race/ethnicity into the equation it is a far more diverse state with a majority-minority student population.

So conflict-adverse state policymakers with extra billions of dollars burning a hole in their pocket and very wealthy and pale complected students should study MD, DE and MA for clues on how to improve their student outcomes.

If however you live in a state with average or above student diversity, real budgetary constraints on the amount you can spend on K-12 and strong competing demands for any additional revenue you are likely to scrape up, you should study Florida. In fact you should study Florida regardless unless you lack the guts for a good tussel.

P.S. Notice that NY and WY both had gigantic spending increases (an inflation adjusted $6k per student) only to achieve average and below-average gains respectively. At least WY is just wasting money they are pumping out of the ground. NY seems intent to drive their citizens out of state. Taxpayers and especially students are the losers in both cases.

20 Responses to Read ‘Em and Weep Edureactionaries

  1. Leesa says:

    To provide more context, it would be interesting to see the spending per child and the test scores in each state, rather than just the changes % change in test scores and change in dollars spent. It’s much easier to get large % changes on a low base.

  2. Thanks for the report. Not to be missed is the fact that certain countries are far out pacing the USA… Perhaps practices and attitudes need to be examined not just finances.

    In WA state a legal victory over over inadequate funding by the state was won by plaintiffs in McCleary v State. Interesting in that in NY and WY similar victories resulted in large funding increases…. which apparently resulted in far less than expected educational gains… I am unsure of the years of these legal actions but they were at least 5 years ago. ….. In WA state no such large increase in funding has occurred …. (in fact not much has happened – inadequate funding continues) so much for the supposed Constitutional rights of kids in k-12 schools in WA State and the WA State Supreme Court taking kids rights seriously.

    Perhaps schools and states need to actually do what has been proven effective rather than playing politics —- you can lump Common Core into the experimental category rather than relying on practices shown to be effective from research. Lots of dollars will be spent on CCSS.

    • allen says:

      Oh, funding’s perfectly adequate.

      Too adequate since too much funding results in the hiring of personnel who have no hand in educating kids so justify their existence by interfering in the education of kids.

      And let me guess that doing “what has been proven effective” consists mostly of hiring more teachers and paying them more.

      • Allen, Doing what has been proven effective would be looking at actual research results. Valid results are hard to find as this is “education” not real science. Most changes are politically driven like Common Core etc.

        I suggest reading “Visible Learning” by John Hattie. He reports the following effect sizes:

        [effect sizes from “Visible Learning” by Hattie : the hinge effect value of 0.40 or greater indicates an intervention is likely to bring success]

        Some usually less than highly effective practices
        a. Inquiry based teaching (0.31)
        b. Problem based learning (0.15)

        Consider these effective practices:
        a. Direct Instruction (0.59).
        b. Problem Solving teaching (0.61),
        c. Mastery Learning (0.58), and
        d. Worked Examples (0.57).

        Allen your guess is incorrect:
        And let me guess that doing “what has been proven effective” consists mostly of hiring more teachers and paying them more.

        NO lowering class size is not among the highly effective proven practices. Salary likely has an effect on the ability of schools to attract highly skilled competent mathematics teachers.

        “Oh, funding’s perfectly adequate. ” Check the number of mathematics teacher vacancies in many states … perhaps the deteriorating economy will drive some folks into mathematics teaching. —- I agree that much of the education spending is done with very little wisdom. Same can be said for a lot of spending on NSF grants.

      • allen says:

        “Actual research results” as opposed to what? The not so actual research results being used now or the actual research results now being ignored?

        You know, it’s funny. You’ve actually stumbled upon one of the central factors of public education and that’s that it’s public, i.e. politically-driven. Yet you seem unwilling or unable to draw the obvious conclusion.

        The political genesis, and continued existence, of public education means everything that has anything to do with public education is viewed through the lens of political utility and the extent to which a particular factor pleases or displeases those constituencies which hold sway over public education. All you need to do to predict the success of some policy in influencing public education is to determine the extent to which it either matters or doesn’t matter to those constituencies.

        Teaching skill, as I’ve declaimed before, is one of the factors that’s immaterial to those decision-makers so gets little attention. Similarly, that “actual research” is of no inherent interest to the decision-makers because they don’t have to concern themselves with educational efficacy. Good teacher, bad teacher, good curriculum, bad curriculum, who cares? Not the people to whom those distinctions ought to be urgent which is why they aren’t. They largely don’t care because they largely don’t have to.

        Until that changes, until the decision-makers have to concern themselves with how much the kids are learning and how well, nothing will change.

  3. Matthew Ladner says:


    There is plenty of money in the system whether you want to make historical or international comparisons. It simply isn’t being used well at all.

  4. The Money =>It simply is not being used well at all. Amen to that. Politics drives decision making in education. Amen to that. …

    It seems that Common Core is hardly based on a rational proven plan.

    Allen is right on => Until decision makers concern themselves with how much the students are learning and how well nothing will change.

    Side note: I filed a complaint with the Office of the Inspector General of the NSF over an NSF math grant that resulted in lower performance at a Seattle High School ……

    From the OIG I learned the only accountability is to spend the money the way the grantee/applicant proposed. — Allen sure has it right – academic results do NOT matter…. it is just about money and politics … (see CCSS for the next financial debacle) … No Vendor Left Behind.

    • allen says:

      It’s not a matter of “Until decision makers concern themselves with how much the students are learning” because, unless the structure of public education changes that’ll happen never.

      Those decision-makers are acting rationally by ignoring educational outcomes. They’re operating within the context of the current model of public education and that model has no incentive for anyone to concern themselves with educational outcomes. Since there’s no incentive to concern themselves with education they don’t.

      What’s irrational is the expectation that any positive changes can be made if only the proper tinkering about the periphery of public education occurs. It won’t and the institutional indifference to educational outcomes is why no teacher accountability scheme or curriculum improvement or any other such gee-gaw will ever work; the lack of incentive to pursue educational efficacy remains and that will result in the undoing of every effort to improve the extant public education system.

  5. Jim Stergios says:

    Of course, I agree with the general thrust of what you’ve written here, Matt. Peterson/Hanushek once more show that there is no correlation between money spent and performance. In fact the Massachusetts reforms (as opposed to the money) started in 1993 in reaction to a court case brought by the teachers unions seeking “adequate” funding.

    But you lose me when you start putting the reforms in FL on a pedestal at the expense of the reforms in MA.

    I believe you are conflating the Massachusetts reforms with the additional money. If Massachusetts increased its per pupil funding at the same rate as FL (1992-2009, NCES), it would have seen increases of 209% rather than the 236% we’ve seen. Instead of increasing from $6,151 to $14,501, MA per pupil funding would now stand at $12,850. The differential in funding is altogether due to the fact that MA increased teacher salaries more than FL during this time. Over the past 10 years, MA average teacher salaries have gone from $50,880 to $71,752 (+45%) versus $41,640 to $45, 732 (+20%) in FL.

    A separate but important expenditure side issue to note is that a recent study demonstrated that increases in health care costs for teachers in MA more than consumed all additional revenues from the state for education from 2000-2008.

    So, my question to you is this: Are you equating salary increases and health care cost increases with the reform agenda in Massachusetts? Are you assuming that increases in salary and health care costs are the reason scores have gone up faster in MA on 4th and 8th grade NAEP math, as well as on 4th grade NAEP reading than in FL? (FL does outpace MA’s rate of improvement on 8th grade NAEP reading.)

    Nothing has changed in our schools of ed to make one believe that the pipeline of teachers is different coming out of these programs, so the increases in pay, which is not based on merit, is not likely to change the quality of prospective teachers on its own.

    The reforms in MA — mainly (1) choice through a high-quality charter process, inter-district choice, strengthening vocational-technical schools (which are schools of choice); (2) the development and implementation of high-quality standards; (3) high-quality student testing, made public and attached to an independent school audit system; and (4) teacher tests based on the standards and unlike the various PRAXIS tests given out countrywide in that MA tests are content-driven — were not what drove the costs. And the increase in teacher quality was not driven by salary increases but rather by the unique way we test our teachers. While content-knowledge may not make a great teacher on its own, it sure does keep a lot of unprepared teachers out of the classroom.

    I wouldn’t call any of these reforms the work of “conflict-adverse state policymakers with extra billions of dollars burning a hole in their pocket.”

    I appreciate and applaud what FL has accomplished but last I looked (the 2011 NAEP), FL is still below the national average on 4th grade math and absolutely dismal on 8th grade math. Its improvements on overall 4th grade reading are solid getting the Sunshine State to around 10th place in the country, though MA still improved slightly more quickly than FL 1992-2011 on 4th grade reading. FL’s 8th grade reading is perhaps not dismal, coming in around no better than the rage of 35th in the country.

    Not only does MA outpace FL in terms of improvement from 1992-2011 on NAEP (with one giant, gaping exception which I will note below), but it is doing it at a different level. FL started from the bottom and moved to an average state in terms of performance. MA did it going from just above average to the top — and to being competitive on international tests like the (2007) TIMSS, where we scored in the top six countries in math and science, and tied for number 1 on the 8th grade science test.
    Moving from the bottom to an average performer, while good, is not nearly as hard as going from above average to the top. The climb gets tougher with the altitude.

    The big, gaping hole in MA is where we have a lot to learn from FL — improvement over time among Hispanic students. We have largely kept up with FL’s improvement among 4th grade Hispanics on reading (comparing the 1998 and 2011 NAEP, MA has gone from 196 to 216, while FL has gone from 203 to 220). But we have fallen flat on 8th grade reading, from 1998 to 2011 going only from 242 to 248, while FL improved from 247 to 259. (It is also worth noting that from the first year the NAEP broke out Hispanic performance, FL Hispanics outscored MA’s.)

    My point in all of this is, yes, to agree that money correlate with success and also to agree that the FL model has lots to praise. One of my favorite aspects of the FL model is just how darn good the FL Virtual School is.

    But it is also to say that money is not reform. Your thesis that reformers with a good fiscal eye should look at FL vs other states is, to put it mildly, misplaced. If you are a red state and interested in climbing to the top, you ought to be looking at MA as well as at FL. The blue-state salary increases and health care cost inflation are an option red states are not required to buy.

    Probably worth further discussion. I pulled these numbers quickly but will post up a blog with full numbers/charts in the coming days. Happy to make any corrections, if needed, in what I have included in this comment.

    • Matthew Ladner says:


      I had a lot of nice things to say about MA’s reform effort in Chapter 2 of the last Report Card on American Education, including that MA and FL have a lot to teach the country and each other:

      Click to access ALECs_17th_Report_Card.pdf

      Having said that, the chart shows FL getting slightly bigger gains with a spending increase approximately one fifth of the size of MA. If I were an MA reform advocate I would tatoo this chart to the foreheads of my lawmakers until they upgraded the charter law from a C to an A and instituted other cost free reforms like school letter grades.

      MA has a great deal to be proud of, but I don’t think any state is anywhere close to an academic ceiling yet.

      • Jim Stergios says:

        I agree on the lack of a ceiling. Long way to go.

        Agree on the charter law as well, which with the 2010 expansion to 18% of kids in our cities gave us needless bureaucratic junk.

        On letter grades versus our current system, I’m not so sure. Lots of inflation there when implemented in a number of states, and of course FL has seen its share of issues with the system. We rank our districts and our schools, and I can assure you that parents (and real estate agents) pay a lot of attention to the scores.

        I’ll look up the link – haven’t seen it.

      • Jim Stergios says:

        On the issue of academic ceilings, it is worth noting some slippage by FL on the most recent NAEPs.

  6. Thanks Jim,

    Given what has happened in MA …. Are CCSS looked upon as being any improvement in MA? Should other states be following the MA model if they wish to improve? Where is the data that throwing money at CCSS is likely to produce a Bang for the Buck?

  7. Jim Stergios says:

    Danaher: CCSS is not an improvement in MA, and in fact is a significant step backwards. CCSS is a huge distraction from the choice, standards and accountability work that states need to do.

    Should states follow MA? I think they should learn from both FL and MA, looking at their cultures, needs and opportunities. Both sets of reforms do similar things, with FL clocking in with good stuff on 3rd grade reading requirements and also the FL Virtual School, whereas MA outclasses FL on standards, teacher tests and the quality of its student test. Both have don important choice work (with FL having more options, but MA doing a better job creating consistent performance among its charters).

    And, sorry for a typo in my previous comment. I wrote: “My point in all of this is, yes, to agree that money correlate with success” but meant to write: “My point in all of this is, yes, to agree that money DOES NOT correlate with success.” Big difference between those statements.

  8. Question about this graph: has anybody superimposed the levels of poverty programs on top of these numbers?

    There have been many recent studies showing that external factors–e.g. childhood poverty, parents–are the primary drivers of educational outcomes, not the schools themselves. There’s a lot to like, intuitively, about that model. Most people can see a vast difference in parents and relative affluence between higher-performing students and lower-peforming ones. Nobody can imagine how the child of a (single) dysfunctional parent who cares zero about their child’s education is going to produce a higher test score than a well-taken care of child.

    As such, any valid study would need to put these numbers into that context. It could very well be that Florida’s economy has improved in that period, and/or its poverty programs have improved, or demographics have changed, or something else like that.

    My own guess is that you’ll find that you can drastically reduce education funding overall and see better outcomes… if you reduce childhood poverty and improve parenting (i.e. through government programs like the ones found in our higher-scoring peers across the developed world) then you’ll see orthogonal improvements in test scores. I don’t imagine that this approach will be *cheaper* overall (quite the contrary), so if your goal is simple to save money this is a non-starter…

  9. joanjstrong says:

    Frank, were you replying to my question or did you want to start another thread of your own? If that was supposed to be a reply to my question then… I’m not following…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: