There is no correlation between education spending and achievement.

There is no correlation between education spending and achievement.

by
Mitch Coffman
August 9, 2010
Mitch Coffman
August 9, 2010

According to the latest US Census Bureau numbers, in the 2007-2008 school year Idaho had the second-lowest per pupil spending in the 50 states plus the District of Columbia. Every state except for Utah spent more on each student’s public education. What did 48 other states and the District of Columbia receive in exchange for their greater-than-Idaho education spending? Did spending more mean better scores for them? Should Idaho increase per pupil education spending?

We can find the answers by comparing states’ scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests to per pupil spending. NAEP tests – often called “the nation’s report card” – have been administered since 1969 by the US Department of Education to representative samples of all American fourth-, eighth- and twelfth-graders. They are the only tests comparing all students in the same grade across states and over time.

In 2007, the year for the most recent per pupil spending numbers, only the NAEP test for writing was administered. In 2005, however, American students took the tests for math, reading and science. What does juxtaposing the scores on these core subjects in 2005 to per-pupil spending for each state in the 2004-2005 school year reveal?

Table 1 is arranged alphabetically by state and includes the District of Columbia plus the US national average:

State 2005 per pupil spending 2005 NAEP score
AK $10,830 980
AL $7,066 947
AR $7,504 983
AZ $6,261 966
CA $8,067 956
CO $7,730 1,009
CT $11,572 1,013
DC $12,979 885
DE $10,910 1,013
FL $7,207 988
GA $8,028 977
HI $8,997 955
IA $7,972 1,012
ID $6,283 1,009
IL $8,944 991
IN $8,798 1,001
KS $7,706 1,017
KY $7,118 989
LA $7,605 960
MA $11,267 1,044
MD $9,815 997
ME $10,106 1,017
MI $9,329 1,004
MN $8,662 1,029
MO $7,717 997
MS $6,575 944
MT $8,058 1,021
NC $7,159 998
ND $8,159 1,025
NE $8,282 1,010
NH $9,448 1,028
NJ $13,800 1,020
NM $7,580 945
NV $6,722 960
NY $14,119 1,006
OH $9,260 1,015
OK $6,613 979
OR $8,115 1,000
PA $10,552 1,012
RI $10,371 982
SC $7,555 989
SD $7,197 1,020
TN $6,729 976
TX $7,267 1,000
US $8,701 992
UT $5,257 1,001
VA $8,891 1,018
VT $11,835 1,027
WA $7,560 1,015
WI $9,744 1,013
WV $9,005 970
WY $10,255 1,016

 

Table 2 is the same information arranged by NAEP score, from highest to lowest:

State 2005 per pupil spending 2005 NAEP score
MA $11,267 1,044
MN $8,662 1,029
NH $9,448 1,028
VT $11,835 1,027
ND $8,159 1,025
MT $8,058 1,021
NJ $13,800 1,020
SD $7,197 1,020
VA $8,891 1,018
KS $7,706 1,017
ME $10,106 1,017
WY $10,255 1,016
OH $9,260 1,015
WA $7,560 1,015
CT $11,572 1,013
DE $10,910 1,013
WI $9,744 1,013
IA $7,972 1,012
PA $10,552 1,012
NE $8,282 1,010
CO $7,730 1,009
ID $6,283 1,009
NY $14,119 1,006
MI $9,329 1,004
IN $8,798 1,001
UT $5,257 1,001
OR $8,115 1,000
TX $7,267 1,000
NC $7,159 998
MD $9,815 997
MO $7,717 997
US $8,701 992
IL $8,944 991
KY $7,118 989
SC $7,555 989
FL $7,207 988
AR $7,504 983
RI $10,371 982
AK $10,830 980
OK $6,613 979
GA $8,028 977
TN $6,729 976
WV $9,005 970
AZ $6,261 966
LA $7,605 960
NV $6,722 960
CA $8,067 956
HI $8,997 955
AL $7,066 947
NM $7,580 945
MS $6,575 944
DC $12,979 885

 

Table 3 is the same information – for 2005, remember – arranged according to spending from highest to lowest:

State 2005 per pupil spending 2005 NAEP score
NY $14,119 1,006
NJ $13,800 1,020
DC $12,979 885
VT $11,835 1,027
CT $11,572 1,013
MA $11,267 1,044
DE $10,910 1,013
AK $10,830 980
PA $10,552 1,012
RI $10,371 982
WY $10,255 1,016
ME $10,106 1,017
MD $9,815 997
WI $9,744 1,013
NH $9,448 1,028
MI $9,329 1,004
OH $9,260 1,015
WV $9,005 970
HI $8,997 955
IL $8,944 991
VA $8,891 1,018
IN $8,798 1,001
US $8,701 992
MN $8,662 1,029
NE $8,282 1,010
ND $8,159 1,025
OR $8,115 1,000
CA $8,067 956
MT $8,058 1,021
GA $8,028 977
IA $7,972 1,012
CO $7,730 1,009
MO $7,717 997
KS $7,706 1,017
LA $7,605 960
NM $7,580 945
WA $7,560 1,015
SC $7,555 989
AR $7,504 983
TX $7,267 1,000
FL $7,207 988
SD $7,197 1,020
NC $7,159 998
KY $7,118 989
AL $7,066 947
TN $6,729 976
NV $6,722 960
OK $6,613 979
MS $6,575 944
ID $6,283 1,009
AZ $6,261 966
UT $5,257 1,001

 

Low public education spending is no cause for alarm. On the contrary, we should thank Idaho’s policymakers for their careful stewardship of our hard-earned tax monies. At nearly three times what Idaho paid per pupil, biggest-spending New York came in below us, NAEP-wise. The District of Columbia’s $12,979 per pupil spending – more than twice Idaho’s – bought them the lowest NAEP scores in the country. The twenty-one states with NAEP scores higher than ours all spent much more money than we did. Idahoans got a good deal for the academic results we received.

It is popular to assume per pupil spending is related, somehow, to student academic achievement. The Idaho Education Association is “concerned about our state’s disinvestment (sic) in education.” But it is clear there is no relationship between education spending and education achievement. It makes more sense to argue geography is academic destiny: the states with the top five NAEP scores in 2005 all lie, at least in part, above the 45th Parallel. (OK, not Massachusetts. But it gets really cold there too and heck, there’s always an outlier.) If everyone in Idaho moved north of New Meadows, would all of our students suddenly get smarter?

What a ridiculous idea. Almost as ridiculous as the idea that spending more money on public schools would somehow lead to better student academic outcomes.

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