Over at Cato @ Liberty, Andrew Coulson argues that we should return to the student-to-teacher ratio of the 1970’s. As Andrew notes, achievement has not budged despite a steady increase in education spending a doubling in employment. His assumption is that such increases have not had any effect and that “there’s no reason to expect it would fall if we pared back the government school rolls.”
Perhaps he is wrong.
Any good economist knows that there are seen and unseen effects of every action. It is seen that the level of achievement has remained relatively the same over the past few decades despite an avalanche of spending. What may be unseen, however, is the movement of the level of achievement. If you are confused, imagine someone on a treadmill – they may be moving but they are not changing position. This is caused by the runner’s forward propulsion being offset by the equal and opposite movement of the treadmill’s conveyor belt. To continue the analogy let’s pretend that the level of student achievement is the runner and the treadmill’s conveyor belt is the infusion of taxpayer money. It is quite possible that the level of achievement could have fallen sans the increase in spending, just as the runner would be changing his position without the treadmill nullifying the force of his legs.
To many libertarians and opponents of public education this may not be a friendly argument because it requires one to admit that, to some degree, spending does affect achievement. However, accepting this argument as correct would also lead one to conclude that the increase in the level of achievement as a percentage of each dollar spent is very low – a compelling example of poor government efficacy. As I see it, that the government must steadily increase spending merely to maintain a failing system is a much more damning argument against government control of education than any other.