The National Assessment of Education Report for 2005 has been released showing Oregon’s performance approximates that national average. This is one of the few times that I would agree with the education lobby – average isn’t good enough. However, contrary to that annual hue and cry of the education lobby to increase funding to fix the problem, the taxpayers are not at fault for this mediocrity. The solution to this problem lies with the education professionals and their unions, not with increased taxes.

While the report covers all the states and the District of Columbia, I tend to favor comparisons with states that are in relative proximity to Oregon and with whom Oregon is likely to compete for jobs and business location, expansion and retention. Thus in our region, we see that student performance is highest in Washington with a composite reading and math score of 465; followed closely by Idaho at 464 and Colorado at 463. Utah is fourth at 460 and Oregon dips to 455 (slightly above the national average at 454). Then come Nevada and Arizona at 437 and New Mexico at 431.

So, what is the correlation between school spending and student performance? On both a national and regional level, virtually none. And that information comes from the National Education Association (NEA), the teachers union in its 2004 report on education. The District of Columbia spends more than any state based upon the average days attending (ADA) per student at the rate of $14,621 per student. Not surprisingly, the District of Columbia is also dead last in performance with a composite reading and math score of 402. The most relevant comparison is the cost per student within the region. So let’s do the math.

By Cost Per Student               By Performance
New Mexico      $8,772.00       Washington        465
Colorado           $8,651.00       Idaho                 464
Oregon            $8,575.00       Colorado             463
Washington            $7,904.00       Utah                 460
Idaho               $6,779.00       Oregon             455
Nevada             $6,177.00       Nevada              437
Arizona             $5,595.00       Arizona               437
Utah                $5,556.00       New Mexico        431

On a regional level, New Mexico leads the pack on spending per ADA at $8772 per student and yet it finishes dead last with a composite score of 431.
In contrast, Utah has the lowest spending per ADA at $5556 per student but finishes within shouting distance of the leader, Washington.Â

In a recent edition, the Oregonian suggested that the culprit was the student teacher ratio. It reported that while Oregon spent slightly more per student than Washington, Oregon had a higher student teacher ratio. As usual the Oregonian was wrong on both counts. The Oregonian pegged the spending difference at $275 per student while in actuality the figure is $671per student – Oregon’s spending being that much higher than Washington. And the student teacher ratio differential, while insignificant, actually favored Oregon with a 17.8:1 vs. Washington’s 18.0:1. But even that appears to be irrelevant within the region.

Based on student/teacher ratios Based on Performance
New Mexico            13.5       Washington          465
Colorado                15.6       Idaho                   464
Idaho                     16.6       Colorado              463
Oregon                 17.8       Utah                     460
Washington            18.0       Oregon               455
Arizona                  20.2       Nevada                437
Utah                     20.6       Arizona                437
Nevada                    20.6       New Mexico          431

Utah has the highest student/teacher ratio at 20.6:1 while New Mexico has the lowest at 13.5:1. Again New Mexico is dead last in the region despite the lowest student teacher ratio and Utah finishes clearly ahead of ahead of Oregon. Unchecked spending and increased hiring of union teachers does not appear to be the answer. (By the way, Utah is a right to work state and the teachers’ union struggles to get any political participation by its members -said another way, in Utah the teacher’s focus is on the children, not the union.)

The scoreboard doesn’t lie. The school lobby’s continued hue and cry for more spending, more hiring, more, more, more. . . doesn’t add up. It’s time for a new solution and it all centers on accountability.

Before, school professionals ask for another dollar, there ought to be a demonstration that the dollars they are given are spent efficiently. And the best way to test that is to benchmark spending and performance against our neighbors. You, the taxpayers, don’t have to have the solutions yourself. You simply have to demand that the professionals you hire demonstrate they are better than our neighboring states in producing a quality education product, more efficiently than others. If they can’t or won’t do it, get rid of them and find some that can and will. That’s what is expected in your business and no less should be expected in your government.

Reprinted with permission of author. Published 11/7/05.