Ann-Eve Pederson, of the Arizona Education Network, recently was quoted as disputing the notion that there is no correlation between school funding and student achievement. Then Pederson is quoted as saying there is a minimum funding requirement and Arizona is below the minimum. Pederson did not say what that “minimum” is.This is the crux of the time-worn canard that Arizona is near the bottom in per pupil spending. Looking at per-pupil spending without accompanying qualitative data is a favorite ploy of the educational complex. So, let’s look at qualitative data in relationship to per-pupil expenditure
First, a study completed by the Department of Education and Christopher B. Swanson showed no correlation between per-pupil funding and student achievement. For example, in the study Boston schools spent $16,879 (in 2005 dollars) per-pupil yet graduated only 57% of its students. New York City Schools spent $15,455 per-pupil, yet graduated only 45% of its students. Boston and New York were first and second, respectively, in spending.
Tucson spent $7, 941 and graduated 72 percent of its students, while Mesa, last in per-pupil funding in this study, spent $6,558 and graduated 77 percent of its students. Of the fifty-one cities and principal school districts looked at in the study, ranked in order of per-student funding, only two school districts in the top twenty-five exceeded a graduation rate of 70% or higher: San Jose, CA. and San Francisco, CA. Of the bottom twenty-six school districts, four had graduation rates of 70% or higher. Arizona had two of the four.
Another way to look at per-pupil spending is to divide the graduation rate by per-pupil spending (www.datamasher.org). Now we see that Arizona is ranked 4th in the nation while Massachusetts is 44th and New York is 50th. What does this metric tell us? It provides a measure of how effective and efficient Arizona schools are in comparison to other states.
Again, using datamasher.org, we can use combined reading and math SAT scores divided by expenditure per pupil: Arizona ranked fifth in the nation. What states are 49th, 50th, and 51st: New York, New Jersey and the District of Columbia, respectively, with the largest expenditures per pupil. Again, this measure tells us how effective and efficient Arizona schools are in comparison to other states.
Let’s look at average ACT scores divided by expenditures per pupil. This metric provides a gauge showing “educational bang for your buck.” Arizona ranks second in the nation. This metric looks at not only how much we spend on a per pupil basis but also how well the money is used.
Another metric looks at SAT scores divided by the average graduation rate. The worst three States are Maine (49th), New Jersey (50th), and Pennsylvania (51st). Arizona ranked 18th out of 51 states. This metric provides a measure of teacher effectiveness. Teachers directly influence both SAT scores and graduation rates. This metric is an indicator of how well school dollars were used.
Does Arizona do as well in other areas? To be blunt, no. School achievement, another teacher effectiveness metric, takes the high school graduation rate multiplied by the combined SAT reading and math scores. The greater the graduation rate and combined SAT score, the greater the result. Arizona ranked 35th in the nation. What states ranked in the top ten? Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Missouri, Arkansas and Kansas.
Arizona, in general, is much more efficient and effective than the majority of high expenditure per-pupil school districts as demonstrated by these performance metrics. Stating that Arizona is under-funding its schools compared to other States is neither accurate nor effective. It tends to focus emotions, not reason, on the wrong issue and a lot of energy is wasted in the process. Just throwing money at the alleged problem is not a solution.
Just as there is no correlation between graduation rates and per-pupil spending, there is also no correlation between teacher certification and quality teaching. Quality teaching is where the focus should be, not per-pupil funding.