Report: On Education, the United States Spends More and Gets Less

Whatever the concerns of state governments about shrinking education budgets, America still spends more on education than all other developed nations, Philip Elliot of Bloomberg Business Week reports. The bad news is that despite the high level of investment, academic performance of American students continues to lag behind international peers.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released its annual education report, which is the cause of much backslapping, indigestion and finger-pointing as countries that underperform search for ways to improve academic performance. This year, the amount of money spent could be the focus of the debate.

Despite the fact that American teachers unions have raised concerns about pay and long hours for years, according to the report, US instructors still get the highest rates of compensation when training and experience are taken into account, although their salaries are not growing at the same rate as in other countries.

The findings, part of a 440-page tome of statistics, put the United States’ spending on its young people in context.

The United States spent more than $11,000 per elementary student in 2010 and more than $12,000 per high school student. When researchers factored in the cost for programs after high school education such as college or vocational training, the United States spent $15,171 on each young person in the system — more than any other nation covered in the report.

That sum inched past some developed countries and far surpassed others. Switzerland’s total spending per student was $14,922 while Mexico averaged $2,993 in 2010. The average OECD nation spent $9,313 per young person.

However, even while leading the world on education spending, the US continues to trail when it comes to actual student outcomes. The country ranked 11th on math achievement of its 4th graders, and its 8th graders ranked an abysmal 31st in the same subject.

US education spending breaks down along different lines than most other countries in the survey. Seventy cents of every dollar is public spending, down 2 cents from ten years ago. A quarter is kicked in by parents and the rest comes from alternative private sources. In contrast, on average, public funding amounts to 84 cents per every dollar on average for all OECD nations, down from 88 cents ten years earlier.

For post-high school programs, the United States is far outspent in public dollars. U.S. taxpayers picked up 36 cents of every dollar spent on college and vocational training programs. Families and private sources picked up the balance.

In other OECD nations, it was roughly reversed: The public picked up 68 cents of every dollar in advanced training and private sources picked up the other 32 cents.