Latest News and Comment from Education

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Jersey Jazzman: On Comparing Education Spending Across Time

Jersey Jazzman: On Comparing Education Spending Across Time

On Comparing Education Spending Across Time

I’ve noticed a lot of back-and-forth recently on social media about education spending – specifically, on how spending has changed over the years in the United States.

The usual context is someone complaining about how spending in K-12 schooling has soared over the past few decades, but outcomes haven’t improved. I and others have repeatedly pointed out just how dumb such claims are, so no need to rehash it. Let’s instead set aside outcomes for the moment and focus instead on inputs: how much more has the U.S. spent on schools, across the years?

When I see people sling around the numbers, I find they tend to break down into measures that range from valid and useful to completely worthless (and probably deliberately deceptive). Let’s arrange these from worst to better, with the goal of producing the most reasonable estimation of how much K-12 school spending has changed.

-       Total spending per year. This is simply the total amount spent on schooling in any one year. Anyone who tries to use this measure is either hopelessly inept or a con artist. The most obvious flaw is that the number of students changes in any year; total spending makes no attempt to account for this. Any time you see his measure being used, ignore it.

-       Per pupil spending per year. This is barely an improvement on above, because there is no adjustment for changes in costs over time. The cost of a textbook or a gallon of gas or an hour of a teacher’s work is different in 1970 than it is in 2020. Again, ignore anyone who cites this figure.

-       Per pupil spending per year in “real” dollars. This is probably the figure CONTINUE READING: Jersey Jazzman: On Comparing Education Spending Across Time