School Spending and Test Scores

Today’s Daily Press (August 21, 2006) has a cool graphic on the front of the Local News section. It shows how much money each locality spent per student (total as well as local and other state/federal spending) and SOLs in English, Math and Science (cumulatives calculated by the state).

The localities include over a half million Virginians – Hampton, Newport News, York, Poquoson, Williamsburg, James City County, Gloucester, Mathews, Suffolk, Isle of Wight, and Surry.

The lowest spending locality ($7,200 per student) , Poquoson (my town), has the highest scores (91 English, 95 Math, 93 Science) . The highest spending lccality ($12,000 per student), Surry, has the lowest scores (72 English, 74 Math, 80 Science).

The second lowest spender, York (where my wife is a school counselor in a school that passed the SOLs every year), is second highest in scores.

Hmm. Looks like more money doesn’t bring better results on tests. If the VEA is really about education, then they should advocate LESS spending per student!

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18 responses to “School Spending and Test Scores”

  1. Isn’t that a little short-sighted?

    There are any number of factors that could totally invalidate a comparison of spending-per-student and SOL scores.

    Do you (or the article, for that matter) consider any of those?

  2. Kris Amundson Avatar
    Kris Amundson

    What is the percentage of students in those districts who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches? How many qualify for special education services? How many do not speak English at home?

    Unless you know all these data, you cannot compare across school districts.

    There is no secret to helping all kids achieve–it’s more time on task and smaller class sizes. But that takes, well, money.

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    Delegate Amundson is right — to a point. Clearly, there some children who are more expensive to educate than others. Children who don’t speak English or who are illiterate in their native language are just more expensive to teach. The same holds true of children who need added special education services.

    However, in some cases, most especially Fairfax County Public Schools, our schools go well beyond what is required for these additional programs or what is fair to the general education students, who often receive services much closer to state requirements than to others in special programs.

    Specifically and according to the Virginia Department of Education’s published statistics for 2004, Fairfax County teaches 14% of Virginia’s Special Education students, but spends a full 20% of every Special Education dollar spent in Virginia. By contrast, FCPS spends 16% of all K-12 public school dollars in Virginia.

    FCPS, in what was possibly an attempt to thwart the creation of a charter school, appears to have rewrote the special education requirements (upward) for some of the most costly programs – including those for autistic children. The argument to parents with disabled children seems to have been — drop your request for a charter school in exchange for a bigger special ed program. While state requirements prohibit a class size of more than 6-to-1 for children with autism (or 8-to-1 with a teacher’s aide), Fairfax County schools offer a one-to-one student teacher ratio in some instances. Those type of over-the-top programs have pushed FCPS’ Special Education expenditures above the costs for either the County’s Middle School or High School programs. A gold-plated program to say the least.

    Thus, Delegate Amundson is right, but only to a point, on this subject. There is a correlation between the types of students enrolled and the sums necessary to educate them, but not as much correlation as the education establishment would like us to believe.

  4. Is not WHERE you are educating a child a very important function of how much you have to spend on them? Would that bear out using the examples from the article (Isle of Wight, Surry, et al)?

  5. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    There ARE lots of factors involved – I agree – but would point out that cost effectiveness is just as important with our school system as it is with other taxpayer-supported services and that sometimes it seems that those opposed to performance metrics are also opposed to establishing metrics and collecting data – in the first place.

    SOLs are still highly criticized… as well as “teaching to the test”, et al

    An EXCELLENT website for those interested in metrics – that also includes criteria such as special needs, subsidized lunches, etc is the little-known Standard and Poors website called:

  6. Jeremy Hinton Avatar
    Jeremy Hinton

    My tounge-in-cheek meter must be going on the fritz, as i know JAB is smarter than this, yet i’m only registering a mild blip on the “whimsical exageration” scale. If i suspected he actually believed what he wrote, I’d say it’s specious analysis like this that starts off on the wrong track towards a meaningful discussion on school performance and improvement. I’m more inclinded to believe though in my underdeveloped sense of irony, and this is pure snark for baiting the easily provokable.

  7. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    JAB, Thanks for carrying on while I’m on vacation! You’ve addressed the most critical fiscal issue in public education today: What is the correlation between spending and educational outcomes?

    I agree with the commentators above that simply comparing spending per student can be a deceptive exercise. Educational outcomes are indisputably correlated with the socio-economic status of the student body, as well as the incidence of special-education students and foreign-language students. What someone needs to do — could this be a worthy topic for a General Assembly study commission? — is engage a statistician to make jurisdiction-to-jurisdiction comparisons, perhaps even school-to-school comparisons, while adjusting for those critical variables as well as differences in prevailing wages. I suspect that significant differences still would persist. And then there would be no “out” for those who thwart all attempts at structural reform to Virginia’s educational system.

    Likewise, if there were no significant differences after accounting for the key variables, we proponents of educational reform would be well advised to re-think our positions. As committed as I am to my market/reformist viewpoint, I’m even more committed to basing my policy prescriptions on the facts.

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    “What someone needs to do…….is engage a statistician to make jurisdiction-to-jurisdiction comparisons, perhaps even school-to-school comparisons, while adjusting for those critical variables as well as differences in prevailing wages.”

    That’s exactly what is being done -it’s called standardized testing.

    No stat’s person in their right mind would validate numbers that were generated using data collected from students taking different “types” of tests. Wasn’t that a big problem in the 80’s….some school systems took different types of standardized tests so it was hard to get across the board comparisons?

    The irony is that the downside to comparing every student with every other student is the standardized test. Schools are forced to teach to the test so they look good when compared with other schools. But, you can’t have it both ways, i.e., across the board comparisons and no standardization in the testing methods, particularly from a statistical point of view.

    I am not a fan of standardized tests, but I do understand why they are used from a statistical point of view.

  9. Anonymous Avatar

    Poquoson has a student population of around 2700 in all grades. Here in Virginia Beach we have high schools with nearly as many.

  10. Anonymous Avatar

    It’s hard to argue with the above comments, but let’s not forget that good schools are made as well by educated parents who care about their children’s schools, who are involved in these schools, who expect their children to do well, and who insist their schools afford them the opportunities to do well. Which of the above schools are likely to attract such parents?

    We know the answer. The parents who will insist on good schools are the parents who will choose to live near good schools in the first place or who will at the very least try to avoid bad ones. I haven’t met a parent yet who deliberately placed his/her children in a lousy school for the pleasure of trying to make it better.

    I am fearful that we are heading toward a society more and more made up of those able to afford to send their children to private schools or to live in (expensive)neighborhoods with good public schools and those whose children may well not get the kind of education needed to succeed in a dynamic technological economy no matter how talented many of those children may be. And the people in the first instance are going to care less and less about paying for the education of the children in the second, let alone paying more for it.

  11. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Why do the better public schools cost less per student?

  12. Jeremy Hinton Avatar
    Jeremy Hinton

    JAB said: Why do the better public schools cost less per student?

    An interesting question, but i find the implicit assumption in your question even more noteworthy: the idea that better SOL scores = better schools. SOL’s measure the knowledge of the students, not the ability of the schools. The two are obviously related, but i would say not synonymous.

    A question: School A is located in the states highest per-capita income locatlity. It has no students on free/reduced lunch. Let’s say its combined SOL score is 90%.

    School B is located in the states second lowest per-capita income locality. A majority of its students are on free/reduced lunch programs. Its combined SOL is 86%.

    Which is the better school? By SOLs alone, school A would be. I would say however that school B is likely a better school, as its done a better job at compensating for likely disadvantages its students had outside of the school environment for learning.

    Its harder to be a millionaire if you start with $0 than with $999K.

  13. Anonymous Avatar

    Ah yes, the old coorelation means causality trick. If A is strongly coorelated to B then A must cause B, NOT!

    The rooster crows, then the sun rises. Does the sun rise becuase the rooster crows – nope.

    It’s a logical falacy to say that because schools which spend less per student have higher scores, that giving schools less money would mean better scores. Unless you can articulate a logical argument that this is true, then the coorelation doesn’t imply causation. sorry.

    As everyone else has pointed out there are what’s called intervening variables that cause the results and it’s not based on the relationship you’re citing.

  14. Anonymous Avatar

    JAB doesn’t need me to defend him, but I don’t think he’s arguing that giving schools less money will make them better per se. I think he’s saying that spending more money will not necessarily make schools better. That’s very different.

  15. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Jeremy: Your point is well taken. The test scores are relevant because they are normalized evaluation to compare apples to apples. If the tests are screwed up then you compare rotten apples to rotten apples.

    Anon 12:35: Thank you kindly. You are exactly right. I’m trying to call attention to the annual cries for more money. As if more money actually meant better education. See the post I put up today.

  16. Chris from ASL Avatar
    Chris from ASL

    James…your analysis is very localized. The Peninsula. Having grown up in Poquoson (a year behind your son), I have always heard that less was more. Poquoson prided itself in the least spending per student around. The difference I see is parent support and a culture of driven teenagers. You don’t have it, you won’t see the test scores high. As previously stated, in the richer districts, the parents are footing a lot of the costs (tutors, extra workbooks, enrichment classes, activity costs, etc.).

    “As if more money actually meant better education.” <-- In Poquoson, that mantra is true.

  17. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Good point Chris from ASL about money spent by parents. But, the analysis to show cause and effect – because not all parents spend the same – isn’t there. The cause and effect of more money spent = better education hasn’t been established.

  18. This comment is for Anonymous:
    I have three children who attend public schools in the city of Virginia Beach.One child is gifted,one is gifted with autism,and one is autistic with learning disabilities.
    Of the three,only the gifted child receives an appropriate education.
    I wonder why you would bring up the programs that Fairfax Schools provide to some students with autism .Since you are a Virginia Beach resident,would it not be more appropriate to comment on the costs of the special education programs here for students with autism?As a Virginia tax payer,how do you feel about paying $28,000.00
    per year,per student for a program that has not been tracked for effectiveness?That is discriminitory in practice as these students do not receive the same remediation services that are available to other students with disabilities in the Virginia Beach City Public Schools?Is that acceptable to you?Would it be if it were your child?
    As a taxpayer ,how do you feel that you will soon be paying upwards of $100,000.00 per year for a residential placement for my child because the education system in Virginia Beach City Public Schools refused to provide an adequate education that would allow my child and others like her lead a productive life as a taxpayer,instaed of a taxburden.
    Oh,BTW,autism has increased in rate of incidence from 1:10,000 to the current figure of 1:166,do the math.
    The law that governs regulations for educating children with disabilities(IDEA) & No child left behind require schools choose educational practices based on research based methods.
    That is why Fairfax Public Schools offer the educational programs you brought perhaps foster resentment & hostility toward these expensive autistic kids??
    Please do not encourage any more penny wise ,pound foolish mentality here.If you remain in Virginia ,you will picking up the tab for the long term lifelong care that these kids will require,thanks to the education system here.
    Here are the real facts,a child with autism,diagnosed by age two,given research based intervention will require much less,if any life long services.
    A child without appropriate services will certainly be a ward of the state when their parents can no longer care for them.
    Here is another bit of information for you,Virginia Beach City Public Schools is spending $8,000,000.00 to build a school just for students that Virginia Beach does not want to educate..And again,in this program accountability is not a factor.
    Now,which school system is being a good steward of your tax dollars,Virginia Beach City or Fairfax?

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