New data demonstrates that there is no link between state education spending and student outcomes, says Andrew Coulson, director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom.
Comparing academic performance with state spending is an incredibly valuable way to measure the efficacy of education policies. Looking at academic performance on a national scale, the results are not good. Seventeen year olds’ performance has been stagnant since 1970 across all subjects, despite K-12 education costs tripling.
Unfortunately, similar data at the state level has been very difficult to come by. Spending data exists for the last 50 years, but it is scattered across various publications. Academic data, on the other hand, is even more difficult to find, as it is either unavailable prior to 1990 or involves an unrepresentative sample.
To produce the type of data needed to evaluate education policies effectively, Coulson took state SAT score averages and adjusted them by participation rate and student demographics (factors known to affect outcomes). He then compared the results with recent state-level National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores, producing SAT score trends from 1972 to present day.
What did he find?
For all 50 states, the correlation between spending and academic performance was 0.075. Correlations are measured on a scale that reaches from 0 to 1 — anything below 0.3 or 0.4 is considered a very weak correlation, and the closer the figure is to 1, the higher the correlation.