Monday, March 9, 2009

Will the Stimulus Plan Improve Education?

Economist Rick Hanushek and attorney Alfred Lindseth are both nationally-renowned specialists on school finance. They recently wrote a post on the Princeton University Press blog on whether the stimulus plan of the Obama administration and Congress will actually improve education.

First, Hanushek and Lindseth detail the past record of pouring money, as they put it, into K-12 programs -- with rather modest results:

Over the past 40 years, we have almost quadrupled our per pupil spending (adjusted for inflation), but student performance remains essentially at the same level as it was in 1970. We have poured money into compensatory programs for disadvantaged students, into lowering class sizes, and into introducing new programs and technologies. These enormous expenditures have barely raised a ripple in student achievement according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, commonly referred to as the “Nation’s Report Card.”

They say that the bill doubles the amount currently spent on unsuccessful programs in two major areas:

The stimulus package roughly doubles the amounts spent by the federal government for compensatory education (Title 1) and special education. A large portion of the package will make up for education budget shortfalls in each state, perpetuating other historical policies and practices that have failed to significantly improve student achievement over the last four decades.

Importantly, none of the spending on these programs emphasizes innovation or improvements over current practices. Moreover, the money will be allocated according to the politically determined patterns of the past with no effort whatsoever to distribute the funds based on demonstrated need.

And they point to impact aid as example of such ineffectual spending:

[A]n especially egregious element is the $100 million addition to the impact aid program.... [V]irtually every administration since the 1960s has tried to eliminate this program, but now it is being expanded.

Hanushek and Lindseth say their "biggest concern" is that "the stimulus program simply locks in a set of bad policies." (They do acknowledge that a few specific pieces of the stimulus package expressly direct funds to support innovation and improvement, but note that these amount to "less than two percent of the total.")

Two other valuable treatments of the implications (for education) of the stimulus package are by Checker Finn and Mike Petrilli on National Review Online and by Lance T. Izumi on FlashReport.


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  5. This is a good question. How do we know what improvments are being made when we don't really have time to go through the hole bill. This is a very gray area. Good post.

  6. Educational spending is so wide and varied that it will soak any funds like a sponge. Maybe it is time to spend money on specially talented students as well. Because letting them to go at the same speed as any other kid is criminally wasteful.