Friday, May 25, 2007

So What's the Problem? (Or, If It Ain't Broke...)

Utah still last in per-student spending
By Nicole Stricker
The Salt Lake Tribune

[The] Census Bureau analysis of state education funding differs slightly from data from the National Center of Education Statistics released in April. Yet both reports list Utah as last in the nation for spending $5,257 per student in fiscal year 2005. The second-to-last state, Arizona, spent $6,261 per student that year. [...]

Members of the Utah State Board of Education, legislators and tax watchdogs say it's nearly impossible for Utah to rival spending in other states. Income taxes from Utah's relatively small and low-paid workforce get stretched paying for the state's large population of school children.

The nation spent an average of $8,701 per student in 2005, up 5 percent from the previous year, the Census Bureau reported. New York topped the list, spending $14,119 per student in 2005. New Jersey; Washington, D.C.; Vermont; and Connecticut rounded out the top five.

Idaho, Mississippi and Oklahoma joined Utah and Arizona at the bottom of the list.

This isn't definitive, but it's suggestive:

According to Inc., the national average SAT score in 2006 was 1,518. (State-by-state SAT score rankings)

The 2006 average SAT score in the state that spent the least money per pupil, Utah: 1,667, 18th in the nation.

The 2006 average SAT score in the state that spent the most money per pupil, New York: 1,486, 43rd in the nation.

In fact, EVERY ONE of the five states that spent the least per pupil had average SAT scores that were higher than the national average, and EVERY ONE of the four states mentioned as spending the most per pupil had average SAT scores that were lower than those of ANY of the "least spending" states.

Now, it should be noted that all of the "most spending" states (and district) are high-cost-of-living areas, and all of the "least spending" states are fairly-to-greatly low-cost-of-living areas. That obviously factors in.

But even when comparing the second-least-spending state, Arizona, to the bottom-dwelling Utah, we find that Arizona's average SAT score was 26th in the nation, at 1,556 - 8% lower than Utah's average score.

So clearly, we in Utah are getting a great value for our education dollars, and based on the actual, real-world results of states that steer absurd amounts of tax dollars to the education industry, spending more would be very unlikely to result in any significant increases in educational attainment by Utah's great schoolchildren.


Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Not apples to apples.

I doubt many Utah teachers face the situation my friend did in her kindergarten class: 21 students speaking 7 languages.

I don't think state averages can tell you anything. Might compare a Utah county with a rural Minnesota county and a rural Minnesota county with one in the Twin Cities with a lot of immigrants.

Hawaii is the only state with centralized public education, but the differences between islands are large and expectable, if you know the backgrounds of the populations. Money is not the proper standard of mensuration.

May 25, 2007 1:44 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

Does everybody take the SAT these days or only those considering college (a self-selected group)?

May 25, 2007 2:18 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

I don't know, it's been so long since I was a part of that world...

May 25, 2007 2:34 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

I don't think state averages can tell you anything.

Not precisely, but we can definitively say this: If you're 19th in test scores, then you're spending enough, and if you're also 50th in spending, then you're getting an extremely good value.

May 25, 2007 2:45 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

I think I've determined that only college bound students take the SATs. If so, the SAT averages only allow comparisons at all if the percentage and demographics of students who are college bound is fairly close in both states.

For example, if only a few percent of students (probably, for the most part, the top few percent) take the test in Utah, as opposed to a much higher percentage nationally, then one would expect that Utah's test scores would be much higher even if their education is much worse.

And indeed, that may be at least part of the explanation. According to Education Vital Signs, while Utah's SAT scores are substantially higher than New York's, their NAEP scores (a test everybody takes) for 8th grade math is lower. The charts at the above site also indicate that a far, far smaller percentage of Utah students take the SATs. So it's just not comparable.

In addition, one would have to consider other demographic factors. I remember that some politician once noticed that test scores improved more and more the closer you got to the Canadian border. He joked that it would be easy to fix our school system - just move every school to just south of the border!

So Utah may or may not be getting great value from its education dollars, but, at least for me, at least from the data presented in this post, it's not yet clear.

May 25, 2007 4:02 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

According to the Institute of Education Sciences' National Center for Education Statistics' State Profile page, National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) testing results for 8th graders in Utah and New York produced the following results:

Subject, year, scale score - state avg., - [nat'l avg.], Achievement Level - Percent at or Above: Basic, Proficient, Advanced


writing 2002 143 [152] 77 23 1
science 2000 154 [148] 67 34 3
reading 2005 262 [260] 73 29 2
math 2005 279 [278] 71 30 5

New York

writing 2002 151 [152] 84 30 2
science 2000 149 [149] 61 30 2
reading 2005 265 [260] 75 33 3
math 2005 280 [278] 70 31 6

As I read it, after spending 3x the money per-pupil on education, New York state 8th graders are much better than their Utahan counterparts at writing, slightly better at reading, about the same at math, and much worse at science.

Further, while Utah was spending next to nothing per pupil, the percentage of Utahan 8th grade students scoring "Proficient" at math increased significantly since '00, and their performance at every proficiency level in every other subject has been consistent.

Therefore, according to these standardized national tests, (methodology), Utah seems to be getting far more results for each educational dollar spent.

Additionally, we might note that the subject that Utahan student really shine at, in comparison to students from the State of New York, is science, the subject most critical to our nation's future well-being.

May 25, 2007 5:58 PM  
Blogger Bret said...


You've made two statements which I still think are far from proven:

"So clearly, we in Utah are getting a great value for our education dollars..."


"Utah seems to be getting far more results for each educational dollar spent..."

The first statement was based on SAT score analysis which I think we've shown was a flawed analysis.

The statements may or may not be true, but they're not proven. What's needed for proof (or at least to make it somewhat convincing to me) is to control for other variables such as demographics (as mentioned in one of my previous comments) and to define what exactly "results" and "great value" mean.

As far as value per education dollar goes, I would consider the following. Every additional dollar spent per pupil could be justified if that person goes on to make significantly more than that dollar. That may not be your definition, but then please let me know what it is.

Again, your statements may be true, but it's not clear to me that they are.

May 25, 2007 11:58 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

"Value" is subjective, but look again at the posted NAEP scores.

Utah spends the least per-pupil of any state, but Utahan students at the 8th grade level perform on par with students from the state that spends the most per-pupil, as established by having students from both states take the same tests, under the same conditions.

Further, we've already established that, among students who self-select for college, the education received by Utahan students allows them to perform competitively on SAT tests.

So, it seems exceedingly clear to me that we can saw with total confidence that, in general, Utahan students are getting a decent education, cheap.
That, to me, spells "value".

But you seem to want a precise analysis, rather than a general one.

Perhaps if we examined each demographic group and learning situation, established their ease of learning, e.g. minorities and non-english speakers, and then controlled for the presence of each variable, we might find, for instance, that New York state is twice as efficient as is Utah at generating educational results per dollar spent.

(Although we might not find any such thing - remember that Utahans labor under some of the same conditions as do New Yorkers, such as the presence of a large minority population of Hispanics, many of whom are recent immigrants, as well as conditions that might not affect many New York schools that aren't in the inner city, such as very limited resources).

In any case, suppose we do find that New York is somehow twice as educationally efficient per dollar spent, which I think you'll agree is probably an extreme example. Even so, since they spend nearly three times as much per-pupil as does Utah, then we could still argue that a Utahan education is a "value", as compared to that of New York state, since on an efficiency-adjusted basis Utah would still only be spending two-thirds as much, to achieve extremely comparable results.

But I don't have easy access to the data which would allow such an analysis.

We could easy find out the racial composition of each student body, but what does it mean, for instance, that New York state has far more black students than does Utah ?
What is the effect of Utah having a greater proportion of rural students ?

Every additional dollar spent per pupil could be justified if that person goes on to make significantly more than that dollar.

Sure, I'll agree with that, but the problem is that after a certain point, additional dollars spent at the elementary level don't have much effect on the productivity of the eventual adults.

Which is true of any level, really. Would doubling the size of college drama departments result in greater societal benefit ?

Since the subject of proper funding levels for education is still a very hotly contested issue, I'm content to note that I don't know what is the "best" funding level. I'm only observing that Utah achieves satisfactory results on a relative shoe-string.

Further, Utah has a wonderful vocational-school system of higher education, they practically give the education away. Tuition for a year-long programme, say for a computer tech, surgical tech, or auto/diesel mechanic, is under two thousand dollars.

That, again, strikes me as a "value", public money well-spent in supporting those institutions.

May 26, 2007 4:12 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

'Would doubling the size of college drama departments result in greater societal benefit?'

Depends upon what society values.

Quite apart from the possible moral/intellectual values of theater, presenting ancient plays in ancient theaters is a big revenue earner for Greece.

The fraction of public revenue devoted to annual play contests in classical Greece must have been, relatively, considerably greater than the proportion the US devotes to, say, war in Iraq.

May 26, 2007 10:28 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

'Would doubling the size of college drama departments result in greater societal benefit?'

Depends upon what society values.

Absolutely. But it also depends on what college drama departments produce.

Even if society values performed fiction, (and in the U.S., we do, to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars annually)*, it's not a sure thing that increasing the size and scope of publicly-funded dramatic education would increase the amount and quality of that which is currently offered.

The quality of television shows has increased by orders of magnitude since the 70s, and, counting cable, the number of shows on offer has also dramatically expanded.

That's not due to collegiate dramatic expansion.

* Movies, TV, theatre, DVD rentals.

The fraction of public revenue devoted to annual play contests in classical Greece must have been...

Without having any way of knowing that to be true, I still agree that that's probably so.

But only because a) they collected vastly smaller amounts of tax revenues, and b) individual Greeks privately bore most of the cost of military readiness - like the American Minutemen of yore.

May 26, 2007 11:54 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Also, only about 3% of Screen Actors Guild members are working at any given time, and, among those in the Los Angeles area who wish to be professional actors, only an estimated 10% hold SAG cards, which are modestly difficult to get.

Sources: Morgan Freeman, appearing on The Charlie Rose Show, and Staff Sergeant Nolayan Herdegen, my youngest brother, a SAG member and former LA talent manager. (Although he's out of the entertainment biz now, and is currently teaching martial arts to Iraqi-bound soldiers for the U.S. Army).

May 27, 2007 2:45 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

And we could ask whether college writing workshops produce better novels than the Victorian method (starvation) that encouraged Gissing.

It's pretty hard to figure out how to have a highly-ramified economy/social system that does not advance on all fronts. Or to put it another way, how to figure out which of a multitude of projects that have social pressure behind them can be retarded.

I, for one, cannot understand why we need even one more McDonald's restaurant; but McDonald's is one of the 30 DJ industrials. Apparently, you cannot have a vibrant economy without more Mickey Ds.

May 27, 2007 2:07 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

And we could ask whether college writing workshops produce better novels than the Victorian method (starvation) that encouraged Gissing.

Well, we already know the answer to that.

But what constitutes a "better novel" is, in part, a matter of taste, and so there is an eager (if small) audience for the product of college writing workshops.

My point, more or less, is that it's not necessarily "retarding" anything to fail to increase funding for it, e.g., public funding for primary education in Utah.

Both that, and drama departments in higher education throughout the U.S., seem to be doing fine with the status quo. More money might result in better outcomes, but there's reason in both cases to believe that it wouldn't.

May 27, 2007 2:29 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

oroborous wrote: "I'm only observing that Utah achieves satisfactory results on a relative shoe-string."

That, I'll agree with. The results are clearly satisfactory to you.

May 28, 2007 9:48 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Since Utah achieves the same results that the State of New York does, while spending 60% less money, and since Utahan 8th graders absolutely humiliate 8th graders from your pleasant state of Cali. in all areas of NAEP testing, I'm not sure on what basis you could find a Utahan education to be unsatisfactory.

Your point, as I understand it, is that the State of New York and others might be achieving more per dollar spent than is Utah, since their student populations might be more of a challenge to educate than is that of Utah.

OK, fine, that may well be so.

But the objective results speak for themselves. The goal is to have well-educated children, and regardless of how each state's students get there, the Utahan student population is at least as well educated as is that of New York state, and far more so than their counterparts in California.

And we spend the least, by far, to achieve such.

Again, what's unsatisfactory about that state of affairs ?

May 28, 2007 2:49 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

I didn't say that Utah's education system was unsatisfactory to me (or anybody else). Works for me!

I added the "to you" qualifier because "satisfaction" is a subjective quality and I haven't formed a subjective opinion about whether or not I find Utah's education system satisfactory. I certainly don't find it unsatisfactory.

And yes, San Diego's non-charter public schools are pretty crappy. My two daughters are currently in a charter school and the older on is going to a private school next year.

San Diego decided a few years back that it was going to devote the vast majority of its resources to "bringing up the bottom". That's kind of a bummer for the 90+% of kids who aren't at the bottom.

May 28, 2007 10:10 PM  

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