| March 26, 2012

Will things be different next time?

“There’s a tradition in education,” former New York City school chancellor Frank Macchiarola once observed, “that if you spend a dollar and it doesn’t work, you should spend two dollars; and not only that, you should give those two dollars to the same person who couldn’t do the job with only one.”

That tradition is certainly alive and well in the United States, as the following chart demonstrates.


It’s also true in Oklahoma, as the following chart demonstrates. Cato Institute scholar Andrew J. Coulson investigated the relationship between spending and student achievement in our state, using ACT scores as a measurement (because NAEP scores for high-school students aren’t broken down by state). “Oklahoma’s participation rate in the ACT is high (between the mid 60s and low 70s), hasn’t fluctuated wildly over time, and is not significantly correlated with its actual scores (I ran a regression to find out), so it’s a reasonable measure,” he explains. “I’ve only carried it back to 1990 because the ACT was redesigned in that year, making the scores discontinuous.”


Oklahoma taxpayers have every right to ask: If we spend more money on public schools next year, will students learn more?

Oklahoma lawmakers—who may want to spend more money on law enforcement, or health care, or roads and bridges—have every right to ask: If we spend more money on public schools next year, will students learn more?

I suspect they already know the answer. A scientific telephone survey (margin of error: +/- 3.1%) of 1,000 likely Oklahoma voters was conducted in 2010 by SoonerPoll. “Now I’m going to read you a statement,” the surveyor said. “Please tell me whether you agree or disagree: If more money is spent on public schools in my district, students will learn more.”

Only 32 percent of respondents agree with that statement, while 64 percent disagree.

Even Oklahoma Democrats (39 percent to 57 percent) don’t think more money will improve student learning. Oklahoma Republicans (24 percent to 70 percent) are more emphatic.

Granted, the overwhelming majority of Oklahomans could be wrong. Perhaps, for once, pouring more money into a heavily unionized, government-owned-and-operated monopoly will prove to be a wise use of resources (hey, it’s working great for the post office). Perhaps the student-performance trend lines in the above charts will magically improve.

Heck, for all I know, one of these days Lucy van Pelt might actually hold the football long enough for Charlie Brown to kick it.

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