Thursday, August 11, 2011

When you get what you pay for

It is often said, in certain circles, that “money doesn’t matter in education.”  But, as that well-known social commentator, Deep Throat, observed, to understand what’s going on, we need to “follow the money.”
This chart shows the dramatic per pupil spending differences between some of our nation’s largest school districts, a sample of wealthy public school districts and three of our most prestigious private schools.

The three schools on the far right are well-regarded private schools, the American equivalents of Eton and Harrow.  They are boarding schools, so the typical boarding charges ($12,000 annually) have been deducted from these figures.  The remainder, the per student expenditure, averages $62,000.  Some of this is from tuition, some from the school’s endowment and other sources. 

The middle three columns represent the per student expenditures of school districts in upper-middle-class communities well-known for the quality of their schools. Their per student expenditure averages just under $20,000, less than a third of what the private schools spend.

Chicago, Los Angeles and Baltimore are large urban districts with all the challenges that go with that.  They spend, on average, $12,000 per student, less than one-fifth what private schools spend.

Phillips Exeter, St. Paul’s and Deerfield Academy have classes that average 11 students (remember this when you hear someone say,  “class size doesn’t matter”); student-to-teacher ratios of 5:1, and send their students to Harvard, Columbia, Georgetown, University of Pennsylvania, Yale, Dartmouth, Stanford, Brown, Middlebury, Princeton, Tufts and Amherst.

Presumably, the parents of the children sent to Phillips Exeter, St. Paul’s and Deerfield Academy know that investing in their children’s futures is worth the price. 

So it should be for all children in this increasingly inequitable society.

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