Recommended for undergraduates, graduate students, researchers, faculty, and professionals. -- R. C. Morris CHOICE Magazine March 2001
Recommended for undergraduates, graduate students, researchers, faculty, and professionals. -- R. C. Morris, CHOICE Magazine, March 2001
From the Publisher
Great efforts have been made to improve the nation's public K-12educational system since the early 1980s. States have been the pri-maryinitiators of this educational reform. States have leverage toreform education because they provide approximately one-half ofeducational funding to typical school districts in the nation and setpolicies that influence who teaches and what is taught. Furthermore,state courts also play a key role in deciding whether educationalfunds are adequate and equitably distributed. Even before 1980, thestates had diverse educational systems that varied widely in terms ofper-pupil spending, resource allocation, and educational policies.Reforms that have been initiated since then have varied widely bystate in terms of the pace and types of reform, ensuring a continuingwidely diverse set of educational systems across states.Having 50 states taking different approaches to education can pro-videa powerful advantage in the long run if research and evaluationcan identify successful and unsuccessful approaches. Identifyingwhat works, in turn, can help states refine and adapt successful poli-ciesin a continual and ongoing process of improving education.Evaluating the effects of different levels of resources, different uses ofresources, and changing state policies then becomes critical to im-provingschools and student outcomes.Perhaps the single most important reason to analyze achievementresults across states is to find out whether public education isamenable to reform and improvement. The crux of the current pol-icydebate about school reform is whether the K-12 system of publiceducation is "reformable." Those who argue it is not maintain thatthe present system does not use additional resources effectively be-causeof its bureaucratic structure and lack of appropriate internalincentives to change. According to this view, improving educationrequires structural reforms that introduce competition by providingmore choice within the system and more alternatives outside thesystem. Additional resources without this kind of structural reformwould simply be wasted.The alternative position sees resource constraints as the key issue-particularly with respect to disadvantaged students. This view as-sumesthat additional resources can be used effectively, but only iftargeted to specific programs and types of students. This positionhas been slowly modified to include a different type of structural re-form:standards-based accountability within the public educationsystem through defined criteria and measurements of achievementoutcomes. In this view, a structure of accountability is needed tofocus resources on meeting achievement standards. This type ofreform has been implemented primarily at the state level, beginningin a few states in the mid- to late 1980s and, with varying designs,gradually spreading across states. If this type of reform is successful,that success should primarily be reflected in differential score gainsacross states that cannot be accounted for by family characteristicsor changing resources.Another reason to focus on achievement outcomes by state is thatabout two-thirds of the variance in per-pupil spending is betweenstates, while only one-third is within states. While the state courtscan address within-state inequalities, federal legislation is the pri-marymeans of addressing between-state differences. Thus, to in-formfederal policymaking, it is important to determine whether thesignificant inequalities between states affect student outcomes-particularly those for disadvantaged students.Empirical nonexperimental research has not definitively answeredthe question of whether additional educational resources affect edu-cationaloutcomes. However, experimental research, in combinationwith new reviews and interpretations of the empirical literature, ispointing to a hypothesis that additional resources primarily affectdisadvantaged students but may have little if any effect on more-advantagedstudents. Since there is a wide variance across states inthe proportions of disadvantaged students and per-pupilexpenditures, an analysis of state achievement scores can help testthis hypothesis.Finally, resources are spent differently across states, allowing esti-matesof the effectiveness of different uses of resources. Perhapsmore important, the different ways that resources are used in statescan provide measures of both the marginal cost and marginalachievement benefit of changing resource usage, allowing cost-effectivenesscomparisons. Such measures can help answer thequestions of what uses of resources are most cost-effective inboosting student achievement and how much resources can affectachievement of disadvantaged students.Until 1990, achievement could not be validly compared across statesbecause no test gave representative samples of students in each statethe same tests. In 1990, the Department of Education began to usethe National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test, whichhad previously been given to national samples of students, to testrepresentative samples of students in participating states in readingand math at the 4th- and 8th-grade levels. Seven such tests wereadministered from 1990 to 1996. Successful reform initiatives are ex-pectedto take years to be fully reflected in achievement outcomes, sothis period is probably too early to serve as a definitive test ofwhether reforms are successful. However, evidence of no achieve-mentgains would certainly challenge current reform directions.This report uses data from the NAEP to estimate score gains nation-allyand by state. It also uses these data to estimate the effects ofvarying levels and uses of per-pupil expenditures on studentachievement. Finally, the report estimates the cost-effectiveness ofthe major alternatives for utilizing educational resources.This report should be of interest to national and state executivebranch policymakers and the state judiciary, all of whom are in-volvedin setting educational policies. District superintendents andschool principals, as well as teachers and parents, may also find partsof this analysis useful. This project was conducted under the aus-picesof RAND Education. The mission of RAND Education is tobring accurate data and careful objective analysis to the national de-bateon education policy.