‘STAR’ STATE WITNESS AGAINST FAIR SCHOOL FUNDING
When parents and school districts go to court trying to win fair funding for under-resourced schools and the opportunity to learn for all children, Dr. Rick Hanushek, an economist at the conservative Hoover Institution, usually gets a phone call. All across the country, State defendants pay him to testify as an expert witness in lawsuits seeking educational opportunity for urban and rural kids.
For perhaps the 19th time—he’s lost track—Hanushek showed up to testify a few weeks ago, this time in Colorado’s Lobato case. He claimed he could find “no correlation” between funding and student achievement. That’s not surprising since he didn’t look at achievement. He looked, instead, at Colorado’s MGPs, or median growth percentiles,* which do not measure student achievement.
When a plaintiff witness used the same Colorado dataset that Hanushek had used, she found a strong correlation between Colorado spending and student test scores. The key was that she looked at the actual student scores.
In the days before Hanushek took the stand, several Colorado school district superintendents testified about the needs of their students; how state cuts forced them to cut essential, real-world programs; and how they would use increased funding to help more of their students reach the state’s learning standards
On cross examination, Hanushek admitted knowing almost nothing about Colorado education. But he was sure of his decades-long theory that improved funding does not lead to better student achievement. Never mind strong evidence to the contrary.
He also testified that urban school districts in New Jersey can spend whatever they want. Laugh Out Loud.
But Hanushek got one number right. He said he’s being paid $50,000 for his analysis (the MGP stuff) and testimony. Too bad the State of Colorado didn’t spend that money on educating its kids.
MISSTATING THE FACTS
Hanushek sometimes testifies that per-pupil U.S. education spending has increased four-fold since 1960, and that student achievement is at about the same level as in 1970.
He’s wrong on both points.
In fact, spending has increased about two-fold, and that increase has helped fuel the dramatic increases in test scores and narrowing of test score gaps that public school students have achieved since 1970. Oh, you hadn’t heard? Well, the media doesn’t report it.
Importantly, over half of the spending increase was needed to fund the major improvements we have made in schooling for students with disabilities. Many of these children, especially those with the most severe disabilities, were not even in schools before and during the 1960s.
To make his point on flat achievement, Hanushek misrepresents NAEP** results to claim that test scores are flat. In fact, on these exams U.S. “students have improved substantially, in some cases phenomenally. In general, the improvements have been greatest for African-American students, and among those, for the most disadvantaged.” (Rothstein, Fact-Challenged Policy) See, also, NAEP Scores Are Up and Minority Scores Are Up, Media Blind to Gains.
Note that Hanushek’s “four-fold” testimony was in South Dakota in 2008, while he was accurate in Colorado in saying “two-fold.” He testified that U.S. scores were flat in both cases.
For more information about the Lobato case, see Great Education Colorado.
*MGPs are explained briefly in the trial transcript at pages 5714-5751, especially 5722-5727.
**NAEP is the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a series of exams taken by a nationwide sample of students.
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