NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

America Spends More on Education, Gets Worse Outcomes

February 28, 2011

While students in many developed nations have been learning more and more over time, American 15-year-olds are stuck in the middle of the pack in many fundamental areas, including reading and math. 

This is according to the recently released Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Program for International Student Assessment scores that measures educational achievement in 65 countries.  This is despite the fact that the United States is near the top in education spending, says Veronique de Rugy, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

  • With the exception of Switzerland, the United States spends the most in the world on education, an average of $91,700 per student in the nine years between the ages of six and 15.
  • But the results do not correlate: For instance, we spend one-third more per student than Finland, which consistently ranks near the top in science, reading and math.

Naturally, the OECD's report has sparked calls for more spending.  But throwing more money at poorly performing schools has not moved the needle on performance, says de Rugy.

  • During the last 40 years, the federal government has spent $1.8 trillion on education, and spending per pupil in the United States has tripled in real terms.
  • Government at all levels spent an average of $149,000 on the 13-year education of a high school senior who graduated in 2009, compared to $50,000 (in 2009 dollars) for a 1970 graduate.
  • Despite the dramatic increase in spending, there has been no notable change in student outcomes.

Source: Veronique de Rugy, "Losing the Brains Race," Reason Magazine, March 2011.

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