Staggeringly Low Productivity

I was amazed by this:

Total k-12 expenditures in this country were about $630 billion two years ago (see Table 25, Digest of Ed Statistics 2008). The efficiency of our education system is less than half what it was in 1971 (i.e., we spend more than twice as much to get the same results "” see Table 181, same source).

So if we'd managed to ensure that education productivity just stagnated, we'd be saving over $300 billion EVERY YEAR. If we'd actually seen productivity improvements in education such as we've seen in other fields, we'd be saving at least that much money and enjoying higher student achievement at the same time.


  1. Dr. T:

    I haven't seen the full report, but I can guarantee that the largest contributor to the doubling of education spending per pupil is pay and benefits for administrative staff. The administrators control school budgets, and they ensure that their slice gets bigger. When school budgets are cut, they always cut programs (band and sports) and teaching slots (bumping class sizes into the high 30s) but never administrative posts.

    Sidebar: I consider any teacher who doesn't teach (eg: curriculum coordinator) to be an administrative employee. We have many of those in Shelby County (Memphis)--they are teachers with political connections who get bumped up to these non-teaching positions that pay better than any teaching post. The irony is that Tennessee has a state-mandated curriculum: there's nothing to coordinate.

  2. TonyM:

    While there is certainly a minimum dollar figure to assure an adequate education (paying good teachers a good salary, having an adequate physical environment for teaching and learning, experienced administrators, etc), where is the research that says more money equals better education? What is needed for a better education are simply better students. That means parents must adequately prepare their children for school by instilling a respect for authority, a respect for education, the desire to learn, and the expectation of accomplishment, proper behavior, and good grades.

    Administrators should abandon the fashionable teaching fads that have proved worthless but politically correct . In addition,the gross dishonesty of grade inflation, social promotion and the like undermine education and and doom the child because he/she does not have even the basic skills to compete in the world and expects everything to be handed to him with no effort on his part. Providing remedial reading, writing, and arithmetic at the college level is a national disgrace.

    The system and the attitudes of all involved in teaching need major fixing. But I fear that education has gone so far in the wrong direction, that turning this around will take as long as it took to destroy the educational system.

  3. Jess:

    Dr. T is correct. The number of school "administrators" has exploded (and that's putting it mildly) over the past two decades - at every level.
    Interestingly, researchers are finding it nearly impossible to assess the actual teacher/student figures, as many administrative titles include some classroom contact (which artificially lowers the student/teacher ratio).
    The pay rates are also staggering. My local (Fairfax County, VA) has a most generous pay scale - fully 1/3 of all "bands" or levels pay in excess of $75K, while a 5 year teacher w/a BA is close to $60K (194 day contract).
    At last estimate (2007), there are approx. 200 employees making in excess of $125K.

    And they wonder why I moved my business out of the County?


  4. DrTorch:

    The document can be found here

    Higher expenditures on education (as % of GDP) correlate w/ weak US economy. Correlation doesn't equal causation.

    Table 6 (Ch 2, pt 1) may be easier to see than Table 25 (Ch 1).

    Regardless, these figures are astounding. Easy to shave $125B from the Fed budget by trimming back the Dept of Ed (could save more by eliminating it).

  5. anonymous:

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  6. LotteryPowerballNumbers:

    Interesting, thanks for the post.

  7. James H:

    Are any of the figures adjusted for inflation?

  8. DrTorch:


    Yes, again I point to Fig 6, bottom chart of the page.

  9. Sean:

    Look at anything the government promotes as a good thing to have more of (with money or regulatory relief) and you'll find that the cost of that thing increases faster than inflation. This includes education, health care, home ownership (til the bubble burst) and defense. Once the money starts flowing and cost start rising the response is always the same, send even more money and the spiral continues. Politicians define their commitment to an agenda in dollars spent rather than results achieved. No wonder we are broke.

  10. John Anderson:

    I realize I am somewhat late to this post, but I thought this was related. Last summer, my wife and I launched a grassroots effort to stop extended learning time in our town and in our research to come up with alternatives to it, we came across this study by McKinsey:

    How the World's Best-Performing School Systems Come Out on Top

    Direct link to the English PDF:

    Fascinating read.