The Campaign for Fiscal Equity, begrudging the fact that some wealthy suburban school districts spend more per pupil than does New York City, is suing the state for more funding. The city’s Board of Education could certainly find ways to spend more cash, but no one should be deluded into thinking that extra funds are likely to help improve the education of students in the city very much if at all.
At more than $9,000 per pupil, New York City already spends more than 94 of the 100 largest school districts in the country. Washington, D.C. and Newark are among those that spend more, but they are hardly exemplars of educational success.
With all this spending, why do the city’s students continue to rack up awful scores on every objective achievement test? Part of the reason is surely how the Board of Ed spends the money. As The Post reported on Wednesday, a new study reveals that New York City teachers have the shortest workday of all large U.S. school districts, 51/2 hours - an hour less than Los Angeles, for example. And a Tuesday Post report revealed that teachers at some of the city’s worst schools spend more than 20 percent of their time outside the classroom.
In fact, study after study of per-pupil spending in U.S. schools has failed to find much if any independent effect of per-pupil spending on student achievement after controlling for family background and student characteristics. Students in wealthy suburbs may have higher average test scores and may spend even more per pupil than the city, but their higher achievement is almost entirely attributable to their privileged families and not to extra spending.
Spending more money certainly doesn’t hurt student achievement and it may even help improve learning - if the money is used properly. The problem is that in monopolistic public school districts, there are few incentives to make sure that extra money translates into extra learning. We may hire some more teachers and pay them better, but those teachers receive those higher salaries regardless of how their students perform.
Consider: Would increasing the amount spent on the state Legislature improve the quality of laws passed in New York? Raise legislators’ pay and give them more staff. The likely result? Wealthier representatives with more staff to help them get re-elected - and no noticeable improvement in the quality of legislation. Pouring more money into a government bureaucracy without addressing the incentives for improved service is likely to do little more than increase the burden on taxpayers.
In fact, this has been the experience in U.S. education over the last several decades. Since 1961, per-pupil spending has nearly tripled, even after adjusting for inflation, to a national average of $6,915 per student. Yet national test scores for high school students, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, have not changed at all since they first began testing in the early 1970s.
We have greatly increased teacher salaries and hired more teachers for decades now, with no significant change in student achievement. To really improve student achievement, New York’s schools must find ways to change the incentives of teachers and administrators so that additional resources actually help students.
For example, the Board of Ed could consider attaching pay to student performance. Or it could give vouchers to families so that teachers and administrators had to “earn” the money by attracting and retaining students who were not being held captive in a non-responsive public system.
Of course, the teacher unions hate these proposals as much if not more than they love the idea of getting more money from the state. Until union resistance is overcome, don’t expect much from more money beyond higher paid teachers.