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June 17, 2009

I attended Scott Oki’s book launch last night in Seattle, put on by the Washington Policy Center.  Quite a crowd attended, and it seemed as though it was very mixed in terms of who was there and why.

Scott gave a short talk about the book and why he wrote it.  Afterwards he took some questions.  One of the main themes that came up was about how our State’s schools are so woefully underfunded.

Now wait a minute?  We may not have “enough” money, in some people’s eyes, for education but is that because there’s not enough money in the system to educate our kids? What does it REALLY cost to educate a student for one year?

Heck, in school year 2006-2007 (last one reported on our OSPI website), the state spent $8,692 to educate a student for a year (this is average across all districts).  That seems to be “too little,” but it’s hard to say that without understanding where the money is actually going and what we believe would be “enough.”   On the “high side” is the other Washington — Washington DC public schools — which spends well in excess of $20,000 each year to educate a student.  Can’t say that the extra money has resulted in better outcomes, that’s for sure.

In fact, if you use the argument that “more money = better education” you’ll see that this isn’t necessarily true.

Take a look at the chart below: it’s intended to show the correlation between dollars spent per WA State district to educate a student per year, and the corresponding academic achievement.


Do you see the problem? There ISN’T any relationship between the dollars spent and academic achievement. Schools that spent $15,000 per student (TWICE the state average) aren’t really doing better than those in the middle of the spending range.

So, we can’t say that “more money” is the answer.

I believe that much has to do with HOW it is spent and too much is being lost to inefficiency and spending on things that do not improve education.  Much of this, as I’ve pointed out in earlier posts, has to do with the waste of time, money and productivity on classroom management and discipline problems.  If you’re interested in how YOUR district might measure up in this area, you can go to the online calculator on our website at  It’s use is fairly simple: put in the values of how much your district spends on educating a student for a year, drop in a number that represents how much has been spent on TEACHING, then enter the amount of time you know or believe is being spent on discipline.  If you’re not sure of the dollar values, you can find them for WA State at – you can select your district there and the amounts will be near the bottom of the page…scroll down, you’ll find them.

I guess the bottom line is this: at a time where the schools are ALL asking for more money, it’s also prudent for US to ask what they plan to do with it.  Our State has just released $672 MILLION dollars of stimulus money to schools and Gov. Gregoire has said more is likely to be available in the future.  Rather than do the same things over and over again and hope — pray — for a better outcome, perhaps we need to take a hard look at where those dollars are going and how they will actually result in improved education.

As the saying goes, “if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you always got.”  Our kids deserve better.

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