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When you’re a hammer…

February 24, 2015

…everything looks like a nail. When you’re the U.S. Department of Education, every program looks like it needs more money. Last December, the U.S. Department of Education released the results from the first two years of an additional $3 billion funding plan for failing schools. The effects of more money on student learning were—wait for it—inconclusive. Some schools improved, some did worse, while others showed no changes to student achievement.

These results should not come as a surprise. Researchers have long noted there is not a direct connection between education funding and student achievement, but, as the Goldwater Institute pointed out in September 2012, the following visual tells the story in one image:

Source: Eric A. Hanushek, Paul E. Petersen, and Luger Woessman, “Is the U.S. Catching Up?” Education Next, Fall 2012/Vol. 12, No. 4,

On the left side of the graph are student test score gains, while on the bottom of the graph are state funding increases. If funding led to achievement, all of the dots representing states would line up nicely on the red line, which would indicate a strong relationship between the test score increases on the left and the funding increases along the bottom. This picture looks like someone dropped their pocket change on the floor.

Education Week did point out another of the department’s findings in their report, five paragraphs into the newspaper’s coverage: “Also of note: Schools that attempted dramatic interventions, such as conversion into a charter, generally saw greater gains than schools that took more flexible approaches.”

Yes, and on July 20, 1969 the weather in New York City was sunny, high of 73, with wind speeds of 7.4 mph. Also of note: Man walked on the moon.

Today, 18 nations outscore U.S. students in science, math, and reading. It’s going to take “dramatic interventions” to change this ranking. In the Goldwater Institute’s latest report, “A Vision for Education and the Future of Learning,” education gets a reboot. Imagine a day when student success is measured by the mastery of a subject and funding was based on achievement, not how long a child sits in a seat. Imagine if every child were eligible for the best that public and private education have to offer, in a classroom, online, or a combination of both.

The U.S. Department of Education may spend astronomical sums to improve student achievement, but more money for schools is not going to help students reach the stars.



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