The Heritage Foundation

Education Notebook on Education

September 21, 2004

September 21, 2004 | Education Notebook on Education

Fact vs. Fiction in the Escalating Education Debate

EDUCATION NOTEBOOK: 
Fact vs. Fiction in the Escalating Education Debate

September 21, 2004

As we enter the election year spin cycle, special interest groups and stakeholders of the status quo will ply the public with some well-worn exaggerations and distortions. Don't be fooled. Know the facts.

  • Fiction : The United States does not spend enough on education.
  • Fact : The United States spends more than $500 billion on K-12 schools. Internationally, it is the big spender. One of the top three in per-pupil spending, the U.S. rises to first place when post-secondary spending is added to the equation. But in terms of achievement, American students are not at the head of the class. A June 2004 report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development compares educational systems and their outcomes in over 30 countries. It's a sobering view for those who want the facts. Highlights of the report can be found here. 1
  • Fiction : The federal government has cut funding for education.
  • Fact : The federal government spends more than ever. Funding for major K-12 programs, including the No Child Left Behind Act and special education, increased by 43 percent over the past three years. Head Start funding has reached an all-time high at $6.8 billion, special education grants have seen a 59 percent increase in the past four years, and there has been a $3.25 billion increase in Pell Grant funding for higher education students.

    While research suggests no connection between spending and achievement, no one can make the claim that taxpayers do not spend enough. In fact, states may have found themselves with more money than they know what to do with. According to the chairman of the House Committee on Education, states have billions of unspent federal funds, some of it left over from the Clinton administration. For more information on federal spending see the House Committee on Education and the Workforce's new website entitled No Child Left Behind Implementation Station lists these facts and more. 2
  • Fiction: The academic status quo is acceptable.
  • Fact : Only 31 percent of fourth graders are proficient in reading and 32 percent are proficient in mathematics on the nation's own national indicator of student achievement -- the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Low-income fourth graders score at half this level. By the 12 th grade, less than a quarter of students are proficient in math, history, or science. For more NAEP results click here. 3
  • Fiction : Parental choice programs harm public schools.
  • Fact : School choice programs improve the education experience of individual students while encouraging public school systems to improve. Research from Harvard shows many students benefit academically from charter schools and voucher programs. Harvard and Manhattan Institute researchers have tracked improvements to the public school system spurred by competition with choice schools. Even the modest public school choice programs under the No Child Left Behind Act show promise. A recent study showed Chicago students who transferred to other public schools outpaced their peers who remained at poor performing schools. These studies and others can be found here. 4

1 Or go to www.oecd.org/document/11/0,2340,en_2649_34515_33712011_1_1_1_1,00.html
2 Or go to http://edworkforce.house.gov/nclb.htm.
3 Or go to http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/.
4 Or go to www.heritage.org/research/education/schools/schoolchoice_research.cfm

About the Author