Pennsylvania Education: Home Run or Strike Out?

Pennsylvania Education: Home Run or Strike Out?

As the Governor stumps to increase spending on public education, his efforts were boosted by a report from the Center on Education Policy, a public school advocacy group, who claim that Pennsylvania is the only state in which student performance on its own tests had improved at all school grade levels. They proclaim that Pennsylvania hit a home run in this regard. But is it really a home run, or a strike out?

Looking at the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) scores from 2002-2008 each grade tested saw improvements in the number of students in each achievement level-basic, proficient, and advanced-in both reading and math. What’s conveniently omitted are the magnitude of the gains and how much it cost taxpayers along the way. After all the crux of the Governor’s position is that we need to throw more money at public education.

A recent Allegheny Institute Policy Brief (Vol. 9, No.44) pointed out the per-pupil expenditure has risen from $8,400 to over 12,000 from 2002 to 2008. State provided funding for K-12 rose from $6.96 billion to $9.68 billion over the same period. Both measures show an increase of 40 percent-2.3 times faster than the rate of inflation.

And what about that performance level on the PSSA? As further explained in the Policy Brief, only for the 8th grade scores and 5th grade math did test results improve by 20 percent. Most of the gains for 5th grade math occurred before 2005 and have been relatively small since. For 11th graders, those closest to graduation and entering the workforce, improvement in the fraction scoring proficient has fallen well short of 20 percent. Moreover, eighth grade reading scores are highly suspect and overstate improvement as we demonstrated in Policy Brief No. 46.

The rate of return to taxpayers is clearly a strike out, not a home run.

As we have demonstrated time and again, academic achievement is not causally related to expenditures. But of course never letting reality get in the way, the Governor proclaims "we can’t stop now". More appropriately, taxpayers can’t afford to keep going at this rate of return. True educational improvement will not happen until real reforms such as vouchers and school choice are implemented.