I never thought my work would be featured in presumptive 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign literature. But the education policy white paper released by Romney earlier this week included a quote from a study of mine on educational productivity, saying that:
Even the liberal Center for American Progress acknowledged in a recent study that “the literature strongly calls into question the notion that simply investing more money in schools will result in better outcomes,” and reported from its own research that most states showed “no clear relationship between spending and achievement ” even after adjusting for other factors like the cost of living.
While the quotes are accurate, Romney’s paper misses the central point of my study and the overall role of funding in schools. It’s not that school funding does not matter. Rather, spending on education makes a difference only when it’s spent wisely.
In other words, if we want to reform our nation’s system of public education, we need to invest smartly in our schools and boost academic achievement. We should not be spending less; we can’t forget that many high-poverty schools don’t get their fair share of education dollars. As I wrote in the paper — right after the words quoted by the Romney campaign — “the literature also makes plain that school spending can make a difference in achievement; a large body of research shows that certain inputs such as teacher quality can significantly impact student outcomes.”
As Romney tours the nation talking about education reform this week, he is getting heckled, and it should come as no surprise. Observers understand that you can’t talk about education being a civil rights issue but also support the House Republican budget plan, which would cut federal education funding for disadvantaged students by as much as $2.7 billion dollars.
Boosting school productivity is not about slashing funds. Given the lackluster performance of many schools that would be a suicide pill for our nation’s future. We are already lagging behind in key indicators of academic success, and a federal report released earlier this month found that less than one-third of middle schoolers are performing at grade-level in science. Instead, we need real resources and real reform.
We need to transform our education system so that all schools produce students ready for college and the modern workplace. Or as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said: “It’s time to stop treating the problem of educational productivity as a grinding, eat-your-broccoli exercise. It’s time to start treating it as an opportunity for innovation and accelerating progress.”