NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

School Success Related to Families, Not Spending

August 16, 2000

The current national trend is to increase education spending to improve student performance. However, economists have found that increased spending actually correlates with a decline in performance. One study found that:

  • Inner-city public schools typically spend at least 50 percent more per pupil than the U.S. average and are the greatest failures.
  • A $100 increase per pupil expenditure in the fourth grade is associated with an increase of 4.7 percent in students performing poorly and a decrease of 3.6 percent in students doing well with similar results in the eighth and twelfth grades.

If money doesn't help, what would? Researchers have found that families are the greatest influence on a child's academic career.

  • If the percentage of professional and managerial parents increases from 30 percent to 40 percent, the proportion of student performing poorly decreases from 38 to 32 percent among fourth graders, from 41 to 34 percent among eighth graders and from 42 to 37 percent among twelfth graders.
  • Living in a single headed household increases the portion of poorly performing students by 1 percent in the fourth grade and 10 percent in the eighth grade.

Researchers say that increasing spending will not by itself increase academic performance. They argue that it is the strength and success of families that show the greatest impact.

Source: Sanjiv Jaggia and Alison Kelly-Hawke, "An Analysis of the Factors That Influence Student Performance: A Fresh Approach to an Old Debate," Contemporary Economic Policy, April 1999.


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