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More money does not affect student achievement, economists say

Tuesday, October 30, 2007 | 8:10 p.m. CDT; updated 2:39 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — More money for schools has no effect on student achievement, according to economists who spoke at the Show-Me Institute’s conference in Columbia on Tuesday.

The conference was held less than two weeks after the Committee for Educational Equality, made up of more than 240 Missouri school districts, lost a lawsuit against the state of Missouri for more funding. The Columbia Public School District was part of that lawsuit and has not yet decided whether to participate in an appeal.

Rex Sinquefield, a co-founder of the Show-Me institute, was also involved in that lawsuit. He was one of three taxpayers who joined the lawsuit in the state’s defense.

The economists presenting at the Show-Me Institute’s conference treated that decision as a victory. A copy of the court decision was even included in packets provided to all attendees.

“Money is not the main barrier to performance,” said University of Washington professor Paul Hill. “The main barrier to performance is how to use money more effectively.”

Robert Costrell, an economist at the University of Arkansas, showed that there is no consistent amount of money per student that a school district can spend in order to get that student to reach a target test score.

After controlling for variables such as race and socioeconomic status, Costrell found there is no relationship between school spending and student achievement.

Missouri Sens. Jeff Smith, D-St. Louis, and Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, as well as Missouri Rep. Edward Robb, R-Columbia, answered questions during a lunchtime panel.

“With this lawsuit specter behind us, we will be able to move forward,” Robb said, when asked what the aims of future educational policy were.

Legislators and economists alike, while disinclined to give more money to school districts, said more money should be given to better teachers.

The money would come as salary bonuses for teachers who improved their students’ achievement during the school year more than one grade level.

Robb was disturbed by the higher salaries earned by school administrators.

First citing Schools Superintendent Phyllis Chase’s wage of more than $200,000, he then said: “Better teachers should be the ones able to afford a Mercedes, not the principals.”

The theme of the day was that bonuses used as an award would encourage success within schools. Without those incentives, several economists said, little progress would be made.

James Guthrie, a professor at Vanderbilt University, addressed this issue and said, “When the education system has consequences for adults when children don’t learn, only then will we see results.”


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Comments

Greg Koetting October 31, 2007 | 1:27 p.m.

While some teachers may be better than others, as is true in all professions, merit pay is not the only answer. Many teachers teach subjects that are not tested by the state, so what do you do with them when it comes to merit pay? And while money is not the only answer or predictor of academic success, it does take more money than many people realize to run a school district and it is a bit contradictory to blame teachers if you do not want to pay the kind of wages that would attract more people to teaching. And what about other factors, like a lack of parental support with some kids; doesn't that deserve just as much blame as the small percentage of teachers who may not be as good as hoped. And, while teachers deserve higher pay, there is a reason that many choose not to go into administration and why it pays more....stress, as in constantly having all these so called experts, who have rarely worked in a public school, telling us what we do wrong.

(Report Comment)
Cheryl Thomas October 31, 2007 | 2:38 p.m.

Greg, do you think only auto industry executives should have the right to comment on the quality of the automobiles they produce? How about medical professionals--do you think patients do not have the right to comment on the quality of the care they receive? Does that seem like a good model to you to ensure quality?

Not one of the conference participants blamed teachers for anything. Might I suggest that teachers stop the knee-jerk reactions against any and all suggestions for improving access to quality education?

Also, have you ever considered that the "lack of parental support" that is allegedly behind the failure of so many students might be exacerbated by hostility to a system that gives unhappy parents no role in selecting the best schooling option for their children? It seems reasonable to predict that empowered parents are likely to be more cooperative. Once they have chosen a school, they are part of the system.

Give parents the right to have a real voice in their children's education, and more of them will be willing to work with professional educators to optimize the schooling experience.

(Report Comment)
Audrey Spalding November 1, 2007 | 8:52 a.m.

Greg, you make some good points.

I agree, merit pay would not work for teachers who teach subjects that are not tested. Because subjects such as art and physical education aren't easily tested, economists don't have the data, and so do not address those areas in their papers. Many of the economics papers I've read have only used math scores. Sometimes english scores are used, and it's rare to see anything else.

As far as your money comment, perhaps I didn't make this clear in the article. The argument was that more money wasn't the answer — it just needed to be allocated differently. If teachers were rewarded for performance, not years at the school or years of graduate school, the speakers said that would motivate better teaching.

Lastly, thank you for your comment: "...having all these so called experts, who have rarely worked in a public school, telling us what we do wrong."

There were two quotes from that conference that I did not use but apply:
At the question and answer session with legislators, attorney Beavis Shock stood up and asked the legislators "to listen to what the scholars said this morning. They have no idea what makes good teachers and schools... Devolve power, give up power and turn it back to the people [teachers and administrators] and they'll solve the problem."

Earlier, economist Robert Costrell said: "Hold schools accountable for results, but let them figure out how to do it."

The papers presented had a theme — economists can't say what makes a good teacher. They left that up to the experts, those working in the schools. They did say that better rewards would encourage better teaching.

(Report Comment)
Sally McGuinness November 1, 2007 | 11:14 a.m.

The comments made in the conference suggested merit pay as ONE option--not the only one. The information and testimony pointed to the fact that the current system basically provides DISINCENTIVE to teachers. The most compelling comment on this singular issue came from a woman who used to be a teacher in a public school. She pointed out that every teacher she ever had was an excellent mentor and b/c of that, she wanted to go out and be that mentor.

Her experience pretty much shattered her dreams and I think is representative of the current public system. She was told by the other teachers that you simply cannot help the children at either extreme, but rather to 'teach to the middle'. She could not accept this. She then divided her class into 4 groups to attempt to allow children children to work at their own level. The other teachers brought pressure on her, asking her 'Are you trying to make us look bad? We all get paid the same, no matter what'. She ultimatley left the public schools and went on her own to make a difference for children through other avenues. This is the kind of teacher we WANT in the system and she got chased out!

The administrators are absolutely bound by red-tape and have no say on how to make improvements (ie: release non-performing teachers) within individual schools and districts that would improve those schools.

(Report Comment)
Audrey Spalding November 1, 2007 | 1:35 p.m.

Sally, thanks for your comment.

A problem economists mention is that of 'collective bargaining' which is when employees act as a unit, in say a teacher's union. From an economics perspective, collective bargaining encourages what you described — people working to all provide the same level of quality, because no one is rewarded for working harder. What you mentioned sounds like a result of exactly that.

From the perspective of members of a union, unions protect workers against too low wages and advocate for benefits for employees (teachers) who would have no bargaining power with a much bigger employer (the school district).

How to reward good work is sometimes a harder question than it should be.

Another point of interest: one of the sources I've been speaking with mentioned that Columbia Public Schools is looking into merit pay for administrators.

I haven't begun asking questions about that yet, but I plan to.

Thoughts?

(Report Comment)
Audrey Spalding November 2, 2007 | 11:04 a.m.

My mistake. Bevis Schock was one of the three taxpayers who joined the defense. He is also an attorney. You can read about him here: http://showmeinstitute.org/scholar/id.31...

(Report Comment)
travis richards February 17, 2009 | 10:28 a.m.

The Rodel Foundation of Arizona released Lead with Five: Five Investments to Improve Public Education in February of 2005. The report is a distillation of a more extensive study of the adequacy of school funding in Arizona that was funded by the foundation. The Rodel report recommends five essential elements for improving public education and increasing student performance in Arizona. Lead with Five also provides cost estimates (totaling an additional $1,883 per student) for adopting these reforms as well as references to the education research that provided a background framework for the recommendations presented. The five recommended education reform investments are:

Provide full-day kindergarten for all students.
Prepare and recognize teachers for high performance.
Create smaller schools.
Reduce class size.
Provide one-on-one tutoring and other extra help for struggling students.

------------------------------------------------------------

travis

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(Report Comment)

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