Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Goldwater Institute: Myths and Misperceptions

Lavish spending doesn't guarantee a lavish education

by Tom Patterson, M.D.

At his recent swearing in, State Representative Tom Chabin declared that an "investment in our public schools," would be his passion as a legislator. Like other well-meaning lawmakers, he assumes that lavish spending is the key to improving our schools.

Unfortunately, as Jay Greene points out in his book Education Myths, the notion that public schools are burdened with declining and inadequate funding is demonstrably false. Sixty years ago, Americans spent $1,214, adjusted for inflation to 2002 dollars, per public school student. That number rose to $8,745 in 2002, an astounding growth of nearly 800 percent.

Even so, teachers' unions and some educators continue to insist that more spending is necessary. Yet we never see the promised results.

According to National Assessment of Educational Progress, a standardized test administered since the 1970s, test scores and dropout rates remain unchanged in spite of a fourfold increase in per student spending.

On the other hand, private schools overall have superior records of achievement, without increased spending. In 2000, public school spending averaged $8,032 per student, while mean private school tuition was $4,689, and just $3,236 in Catholic schools.

Competition drives schools to do well. Underperforming schools in Florida and Arizona improved academically when faced with the prospect of their students receiving vouchers. Moreover, studies of the effect of vouchers on the recipients reveal statistically significant improvements in learning rates.

Ultimately, there is no chance of improving our educational system using reforms based on myths and misperceptions.

Dr. Tom Patterson is chairman of the Goldwater Institute, a former state legislator and emergency room physician.

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