Is there good reason to believe that increasing per pupil spending in Cleveland’s public schools from $18,548 to $27,263 would yield a significant improvement in the quality of instruction? Assume that this increase in funding allowed Cleveland to reduce class sizes and to increase the number of instructional aides. My guess is that many observers would expect that Cleveland’s schools would indeed improve dramatically.
But a recent post by AEI’s Michael McShane gives us reason to believe otherwise. The District of Columbia spends $27,263 per pupil, it pays its teachers more, and it employs more teachers, instructional aides, and administrators relative to student population than Cleveland. Both cities educate a similar share of students from low-income households. Yet both cities deliver strikingly similar NAEP results. As McShane acknowledges, the D.C. metropolitan region has a somewhat higher cost of living, which accounts at least in part for higher compensation levels. It doesn’t account, however, for higher staffing levels. (Atlanta, interestingly, spends even less than Cleveland relative to D.C. and it delivers far better NAEP results.)
It is important to stress that there are presumably many confounding variables at work. But McShane offers a useful reminder that value-for-money needs to be taken into account in discussions of education reform.