Have we hit a wall where more spending on traditional public schools will not lead to improved student learning? Applying commonly-accepted statistical tools to our home state of Wisconsin, we found that this may be the case. Like the United States, Wisconsin has spent more on public schools but has not gotten more for this investment.
In the U.S., since 1966, per-student spending in constant dollars on public education has increased by 300%. In 2011, the U.S. spent $11,841 for every student enrolled in traditional primary and secondary public schools. This amount is 5th highest among all countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and $2,973 per pupil higher than the OECD average. At such an amount, it’s very difficult to question our commitment to funding public education.
Yet, despite these expenditures, we have failed to create a world-class education system. Among OECD countries, the U.S. ranks 27th in math, 17th in reading, and 20th in science. Less than one-third of all U.S. students are proficient in math and reading. We also struggle to educate poor children. More than half of the OECD countries had higher portions of resilient children, poor children who manage to perform in the top quartile of students in OECD countries, than the U.S.
This trend of high spending for, at best, lackluster student performance reverberates across the country, and the Badger State is no exception. In Wisconsin, about 88% of all students are enrolled in the “one-size-fits-all” traditional public school system, which has educated children the same way for decades. Wisconsin spends $1,219 per child more than the U.S. average, ranking 16th out of 50 states in expenditures for public elementary and secondary education.