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Do Americans “Throw Money” At Their Schools? A Fair Funding Primer


Do Americans “Throw Money” At Their Schools? A Fair Funding Primer

Steven Singer

“Don’t throw money at schools.”

It’s a common rejoinder when lobbying for an increase in public education budgets.


The one percent are terrified that some among the ninety-nine percent are going to out think them of their money. They will pay for whatever public relations blocks equality.


As a contractor I have worked with organizations private and public, including schools. During the past three decades I have noticed that most big organizations, including schools, keep getting more bureaucratic,resulting in more and more money being spent on "managers", expensive consultants, and even more expensive software that often creates more problems than it solves. Concurrent with the growth of bureaucracy. organizations are spending less and less money on the folks working on the front lines (teachers, trades people, etc.). Some but not all of the added bureaucracy is created by misguided regulations, standardized testing in the case of schools.


Food for thought
OK - if we're talking about money it is no longer possible to treat the word as if it is the economic equivalent of the Big Bang theory - give me one unaccounted for miracle and I'll give a technology..).

Looking at what Iceland did with the bankers, the fact that 97% of money is NOT generated by the government, but by the PRIVATE BANKS through fractional reserve banking ( 1$ loan = 10x new $ on the books) = political $, hence the anti-social policies of neocons/liberals.

Keiser Report 2nd half - min 12:45 - takes a look:


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Interesting that in all of your 300 words (guessing) of vitriol, you never touched the author's main point about the comparisons - that they fail to control for poverty.


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Excellent article in almost every way, but jsut a couple quibbles...

That hasn't been my personal experience - I was educated in one of the richest counties in the country - DC suburban Fairfax County, Virgina, and when I did some traveling with my B.Sc. Degree from Virginia Tech, it was clear that my education was inferior to the British and Europeans. A bachelors degree there is practically equal to a Masters in the US - and it became obvious why - the pace and rigor of teaching US schools - rich and poor, is too relaxed. In maths, all university-bound UK students are well versed in Calculus and DE's, including proficiency in presenting proofs. Few US students enter the university at these levels.

Maybe I'm being nit-picky, but the Netherlands has not used guilders in 14 years, they use Euros. I hope that the teacher Mr. Singer knows this.



As a educational researcher and mythbuster, I believe you got two big things right but you also got one very big thing wrong, and that one big thing throws a monkey wrench into your overall argument.

1) I agree that America as a nation is functioning poorly on many fronts and major changes are needed.

2) I agree that many institutions, including public schools, often functioning in maddening and incomprehensible ways, and schools would become healthier and saner places for children to learn and teachers to teach if schools were based upon what we know about development and learning, not based upon the logic of factories. The fact that American schools are based on factories and have been sent on the mission of chasing test scores (a deeply misguided mission) accounts for most of the maddening things that go on in public schools.

3) However, you then suggest that American public schools are doing a lousy job given the society and the kids they were given to work with, and that's where your argument simply loses contact with reality. American schools ARE on the wrong mission (chasing test scores), but all things considered, they are in fact doing just fine at that mission. And a key point here is that it's totally unscientific to judge the effectiveness of teachers based just on test scores since tests only assess maybe ~35% of what we value educationally, and roughly 80% of the variance in test scores is attributable to out-of-school factors that are unrelated to what teachers do in their classrooms.

So how might we begin to get a sense of how US teachers and schools are doing, given that you believe in test scores far more than I do?

We could start by noting that on the 2009 PISA test, USA was #1 in the world in terms of the number of top scorers in reading and #1 in the world in number of top scorers in math. Apparently all those dummies you're worried about are mixed in with many high-performing kids.

Ah, you say, but we're were only about 14th in terms of AVERAGE scores in subjects like 4th grade reading, and you're concerned that these low average test scores show that we're all doomed to live in shacks. I reply that past research (e.g., by Ramirez and his colleagues at Stanford: also First International Mathematics Study [FIMS]) has not found average national test scores to predict valued outcomes (wealth, growth, creativity, degree of democracy, happiness) for developed nations such as the US, and in fact on the FIMS, average test scores were negatively correlated with all of those national outcomes in parentheses a generation later--when those kids would have been well-established in the workforce. (The people claiming test scores are essential indicators usually didn't parse out key distinctions, OR are trying to sell a neoliberal worldview, OR are simply trying to sell tests and test prep materials).

Nevertheless, if we want to judge teachers even for the hopelessly-narrow outcome of test score, you need to control for outside variables, just as would need to judge our managerial skill in light of the talent of the players we were given. And such controls are a big deal, since on the 2009 PISA, the U.S. child poverty rate was 22%, more than double that of the average child poverty rate of other participating nations (10%). I believe Finland was at 6%, and the effects of low-SES kids on average national achievement is dramatically muted when a few such kids are sprinkled here and there, in contrast with the US, where we have massive urban and small rural schools that are almost or are 100% free and reduced lunch.

So taking that data, what happens when you compare the reading test scores of kids from U.S. schools with 0-10% child poverty against nations with 0-10%
child poverty? The U.S. kids come in #1.

And what happens when you compare the kids from 10-20% child poverty schools against the nations with 10-17% child poverty (no other
nations, except us, were above that level). The U.S. kids again come in #1.

In fact, even the U.S. kids from 10-20% child poverty schools would still have been #3 in the world against all nations, including
many nations with child poverty rates down in the low single digits. Math shows a similar pattern, but with slightly weaker results.

Chasing test scores is the wrong mission for American schools, but if you are going to use test scores to make an argument, it helps
to get the facts straight: When we control for relevant background differences, test scores do not show that American schools are failing at the mission of
chasing test scores. Instead, they show the U.S. public schools are doing very well.

However, there’s a separate point to be made, and that is that the testing-and-accountability movement (an extension of the misguided
factory model) has made teaching and learning anywhere from more stressful to miserable to prison-like in schools across the nation.

Sometimes we send soldiers to the wrong war, and bad things happen. In recent years, we have imposed deeply misguided market-oriented policies
on public schools, and the result of this had been bad things happening to students and teachers. You can blame the students if we like, or blame the teachers if
you like, but the reality is that vast inequality and test-driven, factory-style schooling are the main culprits in what ails American education
and American students.