If there is one thing the Department of Education does well, it is collect statistics about schools. According to its National Center for Education Statistics, Americans in recent decades paid for a massive increase in spending on government schools. Between the 1970 and 2002 school years, average per-pupil spending in public elementary and secondary schools rose 111 percent, from $4,170 (in constant 2001-2002 dollars) to $8,802.
From just 1990 to 2003, average per-pupil spending increased 25 percent, from $7,692 (in constant 2003-2004 dollars) to 9,644.
This big run-up in spending did not cause a big run-up in student performance.
Since the early 1990s, NCES has periodically administered National Assessment of Educational Progress tests to a sampling of elementary school students. The tests are graded on a scale of zero to 500, and students are anonymously assigned an achievement level of "below basic," "basic," "proficient" or "advanced." "Basic" means the student had only a "partial mastery" of the subject appropriate for the grade level.
NAEP reading scores for eighth-grade public school students remained essentially static between 1998 and 2005. In 1998, eighth-graders averaged a score of 261 out of 500 in reading. In 2005, they averaged 260. Only 29 percent were rated grade-level "proficient" or better.
In other words, 71 percent rated less than proficient in reading.
Math results were a little better. Between 1990 and 2005, the average eighth-grade score rose from 262 to 278. Again, only 29 percent were rated grade-level proficient or better.
In other words, 71 percent rated less than proficient in math.
Private schools did better. The 2005 NAEP tests rated students in Catholic and Lutheran schools. Forty-nine percent of eighth-graders in both rated "proficient" or better in reading. Forty-four percent of eighth-graders in Lutheran schools, and 40 percent in Catholic schools, rated "proficient" or better in math.
Increasing per pupil spending by another 111 percent -- whether it is done by compassionate conservatives in Washington, D.C., or plain old liberals in your home state -- will not fix public schools.
It's time to give all American parents vouchers equal to the per-pupil spending in local government schools. Then parents can decide whether the government schools deserve their children -- or whether they will try the apples elsewhere, thank you.
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