(Guest Post by Patrick J. Wolf)

“Any other team wins the World Series, good for them. They’re drinking champagne, they get a ring. But if we win, on our budget, with this team… we’ll have changed the game. And that’s what I want. I want it to mean something.” – Billy Beane, Moneyball

The cost of baseball players once was largely ignored by the media and fans.  It was crude and destroyed the fun of the game, many thought, to inject hard-nosed considerations of efficiency into America’s pastime.  Then came Billy Beane’s “Moneyball” and the transformation of the Oakland A’s from perennial losers to a competitive and highly efficient professional baseball team, all due to careful consideration of how much bang players delivered for the buck.

Fast forward almost 25 years to the present day.  The cost of public education is largely ignored by both the media and education policymakers.  Many people think it is awkward, complicated or destroys the intrinsic and infinite worth of public education to inject hard-nosed considerations of efficiency into America’s schools.  Then came 2012, the first school year in history in which total U.S. government spending on public education went down.  Suddenly, money has to matter in public education, because apparently there isn’t an endless supply of it.

Today my colleagues and I at the School Choice Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas released The Productivity of Public Charter SchoolsThe report is the first national study of the efficiency of charter schools relative to traditional public schools, and to tie funding to student achievement.  Across all 28 states in our study we found that public charter school sectors were more cost effective and/or generated a higher return on investment (ROI) than traditional public schools.  Public charter schools are like the Oakland A’s of public education — and last time I checked, the A’s had the best record in baseball.

Let’s start with cost effectiveness, or the amount of output generated per unit of input.   The charter school sectors in 21 states and D.C. all produce higher math and reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) per $1,000 of per-pupil revenue than do the traditional public schools sectors in their respective states.  On average across our national sample, charters put up 17 more NAEP points in math and 16 more points in reading for every Cleveland they receive, which amounts to charters being 40 percent more cost effective in math and 41 percent more cost effective in reading.

pat post 1

What really matters, though, is how learning translates into future economic rewards for the student and society, commonly measured as ROI.  The charter sectors in 20 states and D.C. all outperform traditional public schools.  The weighted average ROI advantage from charter schooling across the national sample is almost 3 percent for a single year in a charter school and 19 percent if students spend half of their K-12 education in a charter.

Skeptics might say, “Charters gain their efficiency advantage by disproportionately admitting advantaged students.”  The data show this is not so.  A majority of the states in our sample have charter sectors that enroll a higher percentage of low-income students than their traditional public schools peers.  Although most of the charter sectors trail traditional public schools regarding the notoriously unreliable measure of special education enrollments, that gap is so small (3 percentage points) that it can’t plausibly explain the greater productivity of charters.  We used carefully matched samples of charter and traditional public school students from Stanford’s CREDO National Charter School Study to ensure that differences in student characteristics were unbiased.

pat post 2

Then what is behind the Money-Ed success of public charter schools?  Mathematically, the answer is simple.  Charters nationally are producing student achievement gains that are very similar to the levels in traditional public schools but receive about 30 percent less money per pupil.  Similar results at a lower cost explain the advantage for charters.  We can’t say for sure that charters would retain their productivity advantage over traditional public schools if they were funded on par with district-run schools, but it sure would be interesting to see what happens under something close to funding equity.  Instead of the Oakland A’s of the 2000s, playing competitively with 30 percent less payroll, equitably-funded charters might be the A’s of 2014, who look like world champions.

19 Responses to Money-Ed

  1. the University of Arkansas

    uhm…. don’t you mean University of Walton
    Walton Foundation $$$$$$$ funding the whole department, sounds like a conflict of interests to me…. everything that you turn out is suspect because of these $$$$$ ties

  2. readers need to look at this article in light of the fact that Massachusetts just voted to NOT lift the cap on charter schools and examine the testimony at the legislature as to why…. or look at the investigation today in CT where the Hartford Public Schools and educators are being subpoenaed

  3. matthewladner says:


  4. I’m tired of ballistic metaphors and sports analogies.
    Public education for the future of the children is not a GAME!

    • matthewladner says:

      The tears of blog comment section lurkers with a teacher unionesque outlook taste delicious and mysteriously reverse the effects of aging. In fact the gray in my beard just disappeared! Keep ’em coming…

      • is this you? quote: ” You may remember Matthew Ladner called anti-common core activists in Indiana a bunch of yahoos since they helped defeat incumbent Republican Tony Bennett in the Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction race. Erin Tuttle, who for a “yahoo” writes quite well :), wrote in the Ft. Wayne Journal-Gazette: The Bennett fiasco brought an….”

        but of Course Jeb Bush will protect Bennett so we don’t need to worry about his career ladder. By the way, C. Finn calls us (females) the “marriage wreckers” I’ve had worse insults in my day. And it was the Bush advocates who stood at the podium and said “teachers colleges should be bombed” and the “teachers are terrorists” and it continued right through to the day of the Boston Marathon when I made a very loud complaint….

      • or are you the Houston TX Ladner ????
        at any rate, you seem to be using similar tactics. I received my training from Boston University and I will stand by what we have been able to accomplish in teacher training in MA. Sorry you don’t want to know why the legislature is not lifting the cap on charter schools in poverty districts because that would be important information for the students at U. ARK to know about as is the current investigation of charters in CT …..

      • matthewladner says:

        So in order, no I don’t live in Houston, the Ritz situation speaks for itself and this blog has never had any affiliation with any of the employers of the writers, which have changed over time since 2008.

        It’s nice that you are satisfied with your past career, but it doesn’t really matter if you had been Czarina of All the Russias if you make ad hominem and other irrelevant comments. I’m sure that most BU training involves a study of logical fallacies, but as a refresher the one you are committing now is called “an Appeal to Authority” e.g. “I did such and such, so my claim of so and so is obviously true” or “this person holds position X and they agree with me so my claim is obviously true.”

        So the subject at hand is not me, the WFF, Tony Bennett, or the Bush family, but the return on investment in district and charter schools. You would honor your training by discussing the evidence presented rather than pounding the table.

  5. I was only a union member for one year of my life…. so you can’t attack me personally on that account. As far as being a “troll” or a “lurker” I invite you to pursue my long list of publications that were contributed to advancing education … and I only have one eye to write with because I had retinal surgery so go ahead and lets compare wounds!!!! that would match your grey beard…. now are there any other epithets that you would like to throw at me. You are just angry because I indicated the whole department is funded by Walton……

    • matthewladner says:

      I’m not angry at all, only amused. Your first comment was ad hominem having nothing to do with the substance of the report and your second irrelevant and also having nothing to do with the substance of the report.

      This sort of flailing is a sign of good work, so I am looking forward to reading the report.

      • but it speaks to the Credibility of the report/rearch so put a statement on it (preferably on the cover) just as when Podgursky sends out an article titled Principal Pension Payoff and it goes to the NAEP Governing Board and the policy wonks grab it as gospel…. Stating a fact about your department’s funding at U.ARK (once I ha it mixed up with U Arizona) is not ad hominem; ad hominem is when Dick Armey says to Joan Walsh “you are too ugly to get a man” and I just laugh about that when I see Dick Armey on TV raising money$$$$ ….

  6. If you want to talk about baseball, then go to George Will’s sites…. by the way maybe you could ask him how a professional baseball owner can pull in 50 million or more /year without the team’s winning any games…. But I prefer you not put any more on this site so you can answer at my email

  7. the definition I go with ” the basis of some irrelevant fact about the author of or the person presenting the claim or argument.[2]” I claim that it is relevant to know the funding sources when you read the “research” Didn’t we learn that from big tobacco?
    I say the same thing when P. Peterson kicks out a report that has Brown U. (one author) and “harvard” on the cover and it is really a report funded by Gates that pushes the canon and ideology and catechism of C. Finn and others at that institution.

  8. since you noted my one eye (in the middle of my forehead) is crying then I don’t obviously want to spend the time giving feedback to the “student”??? who wrote this statement especially since you lump Massachusetts into it where I have some specific knowledge.
    quote: “Skeptics might say, “Charters gain their efficiency advantage by disproportionately admitting advantaged students.” The data show this is not so. A majority of the states in our sample have charter sectors that enroll a higher percentage of low-income students than their traditional public schools peers.

    If you knew the definition of the cap in MA and the specific legislation you would hesitate to lump MA in with “the majority of states” so just leave us out of everything you write and I will be happy and stop crying…..

  9. I missed Czarina when I was there in 1968 so now you can call me a “Commie” socialist or something because I believe in public education; and it was Kruschev who banged the table with his shoe but I had one boss who banged the table and said “you have to think like a business manager not like a teacher”….. You haven’t asked me for the facts about the charter schools in Massachusetts where I was claiming to have some knowledge (I don’t have the expertise because I retired in 1995)…. knowledge I will attest to and previous experience; but then, is anecdote the opposite of data? I don’t think that is true in all the sciences. I purposely named women because those are the ones most frequently attacked (like my professor who did research studies on First Grade). We always got that Harvard is better than BU for the years that I worked so I don’t think I need to go back and defend any of that history. You haven’t asked me for the facts about the charter schools in Massachusetts where I was claiming to have some information (I don’t currently have the knowledge or expertise because I retired in 1995 when I saw the millions being siphoned off by privateers who charged rent to the public schools for their “special needs students” for that one you can google Boston Globe John Barranco)… My pension is published in the Boston Globe so you can compare that with John Barranco who got his pension up to the highest in the state and the Attorney general has boxes and boxes of files but it is white collar crime (I almost made an error typing white color crime …. I sure hope autocorrect would have caught that.) Now you will probably react with “white collar crime only occurs in the public sector or the “government” or some other assertion.

  10. […] and Dr. Wolf, writing on Jay Greene’s blog, made a great baseball analogy comparing public charter schools to the Oakland Athletics. […]

  11. quote: “the funding determines the claims in the so-called reports (see Pulling a Greene: Why Advocacy and Market Forces Fail Education Reform),

  12. cx: The Charter Sham Formula: Billionaires + Flawed “Reports” + Press Release Media = Misled Public | the becoming radical
    25 Jul 2014 | Corporate Education Reform
    Share NPE News Briefs
    Late in 2013, I shared my own experience with the disaster capitalism tactics employed by the Walton-funded Department of Education Reform (University of Arkansas), asking: For the Record: Should We Trust Advocates of “No Excuses”?
    (didn’t we learn this lesson from big tobacco?)

  13. quote: UARK Study Shamelessly (& Knowingly) Uses Bogus Measures to Make Charter Productivity Claims.
    Bruce D. Baker is well placed to critique the research – he is a Professor in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, where he teaches courses in school finance policy and district business management. The report was produced by the National Education Policy Centre at the University of Colorado, Boulder.”
    so they made fun and mocked jean but they cannot stand up to this criticism….

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