Academic Results Not Tied to School Spending in Michigan, Report Says

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

A newly-released report from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy finds that there is no statistical correlation between spending on public schools in Michigan and the academic performance of the state’s students.

A large data set was used for the study, titled ”School Spending and Student Achievement in Michigan: What’s the Relationship?” that included detailed spending, standardized test scores, and student demographic information from over 4,000 public schools in the state between 2007 and 2013.  Authors Ben DeGrow and Ed Hoang believe that using building-level data rather than data collected at the district level allowed for a more accurate picture of the relationship between spending and achievement.

Using indicators such as the results of three standardized tests and graduation rates for high school students, the study looked to determine if a statistically significant correlation existed between how much individual schools spend on each student and how well each student then performed on one or more of 28 measurements of academic achievement.

However, study results suggest no correlation between spending and student achievement in the state.  The authors say that this finding is in agreement with previous research done on the subject.  They claim that if everything else is held equal, student achievement in the state will not improve through an increase in spending on the public school system.

The Michigan Department of Education supplied detailed information for fiscal years 2004 through 2013.  Meanwhile, academic variables included elementary and middle school test scores between 2008 and 2013 from the Michigan Educational Assessment Program tests for students between grades three and eight, in addition to high school test scores from the Michigan Merit Examination subject tests in the same time frame and composite and individual subject scores from ACT tests given to eleventh-grade students in the state between 2007 and 2013.

On-time (four-year) and extended (five and six-year) graduation rates were also considered.

Study results found no correlation between how much a school spent per student and its’ academic performance in 27 of the 28 academic indicators used.  The only indicator to show improvement was seventh grade math, although it was a very small improvement, finding that a school would need to spend 10% more to increase scores on the exam by just .0574 points.

The authors suggest that despite beliefs that spending more would result in the hiring of additional teachers and resources, the average public school does not in fact spend additional resources in ways that would increase student achievement.

To illustrate this point, DeGrow and Hoang point to the example of a six-year study conducted by the University of Washington’s Center for Reinventing Public Education, which found that school finance systems across the country are typically centered around the needs of adults rather than students and are designed to foster compliance instead of results.  The report goes on to say that the systems are unable to offer the detailed information that is necessary to determine the most productive ways to use those funds.

They say that this means public schools may not have the information they need in order to budget their spending in a way that would boost student achievement.