Does More Educational Money Equal Better Education for K-12 Students

IMG_0552Does More Educational Money Equal Better Education for K-12 Students

No matter what graph or chart you look at, Arizona is near the bottom in money for its schools compared to the rest of the country.

I looked at the updated report from Concordia University-Portland dated January 2018. Its report gave the rankings of how each state compared in the amount spent per pupil. Arizona ranked in the bottom five above only Utah, Idaho, Oklahoma, and Mississippi in spending. New York spent the most per pupil at $21,206. Utah was at the bottom at $6,575. Arizona was at $7,489, well below the national average of $11,392. Those are big differences in what is spent per pupil across these United States.

My question for this blog is “What does more money buy when it comes to an education for our K-12 students?”

Is money or the lack of, keeping our student scores in Arizona below the other states? Well, first let’s take a look at Arizona’s scores. I chose the scores for the three states I am comparing from 2017 because those were the latest scores I could find for all three.

Arizona’s scores for 2017 from the AZ merit tests were: MP (minimally proficient), PP (partially proficient), P (proficient), HP (highly proficient)
3rd grade: math-MP24%, PP29%, P28%, HP19%; ELA-MP45%, PP12%, P30%, HP13%
8th grade: math-MP49%, PP23%, P18%, HP10%; ELA-MP46%, PP21%, P25%, HP9%
11th grade (algebra 1) math-MP39%, PP22%, P28%, HP11%; ELA-MP52%, PP23%, P17%, HP9%

My first state chosen at random was Michigan at $11,482 per pupil. NP (not proficient), PP(partially proficient), P(proficient), A(advanced)
3rd grade: Math-NP26.8%, PP26.4%, P29.1%, 17.7%; ELA-NP30.4%, PP25.5%, P22%, A22.1%
8th grade: Math-NP39.9%, PP26.6%, P16.4%, A17.1%; ELA- NP23.4%, PP28.6%, P34.9%, A13.1%
11th grade: I could only find science scores posted.

The second randomly chosen state was California at $10,467 per pupil. NM (not met), N(nearly met), M(met), SE(standard exceeded)
3rd grade: math-NM28.27%, N24.99%, M27.56%, SE19.27%; ELA-NM32%, N24%, M21.1%, SE22.8%
8th grade: math- NM40.28%, N23.42%, M16.27%, SE20.03%; ELA-NM25.42%, N25.97%, M33.14%, SE15.47%
11th grade: math- NM44.22%, N23.64%, M19.22%, SE12.92%; ELA-NM18.91%, N21.34%, M32.04%, SE27.72%

Comparing the three states, two of which the per-pupil spending is below the national average, are some interesting stats.

Take the passing rates for the three states. Arizona’s third-grade students had only 47% pass math and 43% pass ELA. Michigan’s 3rd-grade students 46.8% passed math and 44.1% passed ELA. California had 46.83% pass math and 43.9% pass ELA. The scores are not too different. Let’s take a look at 8th grade.

Arizona’s 8th-grade student’s had 28% pass math and 34% pass the ELA portion. Michigan had 8th-grade scores of 33.5% passing in math and 48% passing ELA. And California had 8th-grade scores of 36.30% for math and 48.61% for ELA.

And for the 11th-grade students for Arizona and California, the scores were 39% for math and 26% for ELA in Arizona and 32.14% in math and 59.76% in ELA for California.

The scores are really not that different from each other. Even though Arizona spent less than $4,000 less per pupil than the other two states.

The drawback to comparing scores from different states is each state develops its own tests. So, I thought I would look at NAEP scores. What are the NAEP scores? Here is the description of NAEP from its own website.

“The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the only assessment that measures what U.S. students know and can do in various subjects across the nation, states, and in some urban districts. Also known as The Nation’s Report Card, NAEP has provided important information about how students are performing academically since 1969.”

Again from 2017, the NAEP scores were not that different for the three states.

Arizona: 4th math-significantly lower; 8th math-no significant difference; 4th reading-significantly lower; 8th reading significantly lower

California: 4th math-significantly lower; 8th math-significantly lower; 4th reading-significantly lower; 8th reading-significantly lower

Michigan: 4th math-significantly lower; 8th math-not significantly different; 4th reading- significantly lower; 8th reading-no significant difference.

Why am I presenting all these state test scores and NAEP scores? I wanted to see if there was any hint from other states spending more money per pupil if their higher money produced better-educated students.

When comparing state scores, if you look at the third-grade scores, the difference is minimal. The eighth-grade scores are higher for both the other two states compared to Arizona’s scores, but still below 50% of the students passing each state’s expectations.

Arizona scored higher in math and much lower compared to California students in ELA.

The NAEP scores had all three states achieving significantly lower in fourth-grade math and reading. In eighth grade math, Michigan and Arizona students scored higher than California students in math. Michigan students scored higher in reading than the Arizona and California students.

You can easily question the validity of comparing test scores across states because the state tests are all different. My point with the tests is all three states are falling far, far below their own expectations in the education of their students. I was hoping for 85% to 90% of their students meeting or exceeding expectations not less than 50% like Arizona. What are California and Michigan getting for their $4,000 dollar more in per-pupil spending? Not much, at least according to their scores.

With the NAEP scores, I am comparing apples to apples. Compared to neighboring California, we are looking like we are the same or better at $4,000 less. Michigan is better sometimes. Is that all $4,000 gets you towards the education of your students is better, maybe or maybe not

This blog is not meant to search for answers on how to better educate the students of Arizona. When compared to two other states, money does not look like it makes much of a difference.


Tim Ihms

I am an educator with 41 years of experience. An experience that includes teaching regular education kindergarten through twelfth grades; special education K-12 with the labels of mentally handicapped, learning disabilities, behavior disorder and multi-category; public and private schools; three states; started three private schools; board member at four schools; principal for eighteen years and custodian off and on throughout.
I earned a Bachelor degree from ASU in Special Education and a Masters Degree from UNC in Learning Disabilities and Emotional Disturbed. Teaching certificates are in regular education k-8; principal; special education- learning disabilities, mentally handicapped, emotionally disturbed.

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