“I think everyone understands the moment in time in which we’re at and where we were at in education and how we can move forward. I think there’s a lot of buy-in.”
— State Rep. G. Andrés Romero (D-Albuquerque), vice chair, House Legislative Education Committee
Translation: The revenue spigots will be opened for PK-12 government education in New Mexico in 2019.
Regardless of who claims the governor’s office in eleven days, the pressure to boost subsidies to primary and secondary “public” education is sure to be immense. A judge has ordered that legislators increase spending “for the children,” and the budget surplus for the coming fiscal year could top $2 billion. It’s a perfect storm for huge new giveaways to unionized, monopolized schooling in the Land of Enchantment.
A half-century of real-world experience, of course, stands as a stark warning to the Santa Fe establishment’s desire to “move forward.” In the 1960s, sociologist James S. Coleman undertook a massive study of government schools and spending, and concluded:
Per-pupil expenditures, books in the library, and a host of other facilities and curricular measures show virtually no relation to achievement if the social environment of the school — the educational backgrounds of other students and teachers — is held constant. … Altogether, the sources of inequality of educational opportunity appear to lie first in the home itself and the cultural influences immediately surrounding the home; then they lie in the school’s ineffectiveness to free achievement from the impact of the home.
Several years later, Harvard scholars Mary Jo Bane and Christopher Jencks debunked the belief that “if schools could equalize people’s cognitive skills this would equalize their bargaining power as adults.” Children, they wrote, “seem to be more influenced by what happens at home than by what happens at school,” with “what happens on the streets” and “what they see on television” as additional contributors. “Neither the overall level of resources available to a school,” Bane and Jencks averred, “nor any specific, easily identifiable school policy has a significant effect on students’ cognitive skills.”
In the early 1990s, researchers at the Educational Testing Service studied the connection between non-classroom factors and student performance. They found that 91 percent of the difference among the outcomes of the states’ government schools could be explained by five factors, including the amount of time students spent watching television and the presence of two parents in the home.
Plenty of subsequent studies have confirmed that more money ≠ better outcomes, but perhaps the best analysis produced in recent years just arrived, courtesy economist Stan J. Liebowitz research fellow Matthew L. Kelly. Writing in the November issue of Reason, the pair thoroughly puncture “the pervasive and perverse notion that spending, by itself, is a positive factor” in student achievement.
First, Liebowitz and Kelly “excluded metrics not directly related to learning and looked solely at [National Assessment of Educational Progress] scores,” “disaggregated students by age, subject, and racial category to reflect a state’s student heterogeneity,” “gave equal weight to each category to produce a new average quality score for each state,” and “then ranked the states … to produce … ‘quality’ rankings.” Then the scholars asked: “How much are states spending to achieve their levels of success?”
As the scatterplot above shows, Liebowitz and Kelly found zero connection between spending on schooling and student scores. Some states (Florida, Texas, Georgia) post impressive results with modest expenditures. Others (New Jersey, Wyoming, Connecticut) produce high achievers, but at tremendous cost. Alabama, Oregon, and Nevada are relative skinflints, with little to show for their parsimony. Maine, Alaska, and New York are the worst of the worst — big spending, lousy achievement.
Liebowitz and Kelly concluded that “the self-serving interests of education functionaries who only gain from higher spending” should be ignored: “After all, minds and dollars are terrible things to waste.”
So before New Mexico’s petroleum bonanza is squandered, in toto, on teacher-union-approved policies, it might be worth devoting some time and attention to the unquestionably dismal record of boosting subsidies to “education” in the hope that student proficiency will improve. Ignoring the lessons of history won’t serve the state’s children — or its taxpayers.