The results appear to be a remarkable reversal from earlier research by Hanushek, who had concluded for four decades in academic work that most studies showed no clear relationship between spending and academic performance. His work has been cited by the United States Supreme Court and spurred a generation of federal policymakers and advocates seeking to fix America’s schools to focus not on money but on ideas like teacher evaluation and student choice. ‘school.
Despite his new discoveries, Hanushek’s own opinions have not changed. “Just putting more money into schools is unlikely to give us very good results,” he said in a recent interview. The focus, he insists, should be on spending money efficiently, not necessarily on spending more. Money can help, but it is not a guarantee.
Hanushek’s perspective is important as he remains influential, playing a dual role as a scholar and a leading lawyer – he continues to testify in court case on school funding and how many legislators think about improving schools.
Hanushek began studying schools as a doctoral student in economics at MIT in 1966, when he attended an academic institution seminar to look into an explosive new study. The Coleman report, released by the federal government, claimed that schools did not matter much to students’ academic success. More money for education would not improve matters either, according to the report, which was influential but steeped in methodology defaults.
Hanushek could not believe the conclusion that schools did not matter. In 1981, then an economics professor at the University of Rochester, he had found a way to make sense of the report’s vexing conclusions: schools really did make a difference, but you couldn’t tell which ones were good based on the money they were spending. . Hanushek published a manifesto-like academic paper exposing this case entitled: “Throwing money in schools”.
Eventually, the debate became “Does money matter?” as the Brookings Institution said in a book to which Hanushek contributed. He always described this framing as simplistic, but Hanushek essentially became the “not really” team captain.
Hanushek hammered home that point with the message discipline of a politician and the data chops of an economist. He again wrote updated versions of the same academic paper in 1986 then in 1989, 1997And 2003. He has also argued this in numerous reports and articles, as well as in testimony in increasingly widespread school funding lawsuits. In 2000, he became a fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank, where he is still based today.
Hanushek’s basic claim was that most studies of school ‘inputs’ – such as spending per pupil, teacher salaries and small class sizes – did not show a clear link between these resources and student results. His 2003 paper showed that only 27% of spending findings were positively and significantly related to student achievement. “One is left with the clear picture that input policies of the type generally pursued are unlikely to be effective,” Hanushek wrote.
However, the basis for this conclusion was much more tenuous than Hanushek implied. Some researchers reanalyzed Hanushek’s data, and found that there were in fact was a link between spending and performance because its approach to summarizing studies was flawed. More importantly, the studies he relied on were unable to clearly isolate the impact of silver.
“They were very poorly made by today’s standards,” said Harvard education professor Martin West. Nevertheless, Hanushek’s summary of these older studies, all published before 1995, is still occasionally cited today, including in procedure.
From the early 1990s, the discipline of economics started to focus learn more about the separation of cause and effect, using so-called “natural experiments”, an idea that recently won the Nobel Prize in Economics. This ultimately turned the debate on school expenses upside down: kill more recent papers using these methods have shown a positive association with student outcomes. A recent insight The article by Kirabo Jackson and Claire Mackevicius of Northwestern University combined results from many previous studies. They found that, on average, an additional $1,000 per student led to a small increase in test scores and a 2 percentage point increase in high school graduation rates.
Hanushek played down this new research linking spending to results. Last year he even testified in a Pennsylvania school funding case that “the majority of studies that have been done to examine this relationship yield no statistically significant relationship.” This line was later cited in a lawsuit Short by state attorneys.
Hanushek’s most recent articleposted online several months after his testimony in Pennsylvania, comes to a different conclusion.
Along with Stanford predoctoral fellow Danielle Handel, Hanushek reviewed rigorous studies published since 1999. Of 18 statistical estimates of the relationship between spending and test scores, 11 were positive and statistically significant. A separate set of 18 estimates examined the association with high school completion or college attendance; 14 of them were positive and significant. (The other four were positive but were not significant.) These results appear to be much more supportive of school spending than Hanushek’s earlier work indicated.
Northwestern’s Hanushek and Jackson have publicly debated the relationship between funding and results, including in a recent court case from Maryland. But their most recent papers are surprisingly aligned in results, if not in interpretation.
“The results reported by these studies were remarkably similar,” said Matthew Springer, a professor at the University of North Carolina who has testified on the state side in a number of funding cases. Both show positive effects of money, he said.
Still, Hanushek insists it’s not the right takeaway. Don’t look at the typical effect, he argues; look at the variation from study to study. “A thorough review of existing studies…leads to conclusions similar to those of historical work: how resources are used is key to the results,” he and Handel wrote. “The range of estimates is startling.”
Context matters, they say. Sometimes money is well spent; sometimes it’s badly spent. Sometimes the effects are significant; other times they are small or non-existent. Simply focusing on the overall effect masks this variation.
For Hanushek, this lines up with what he’s been saying for decades: throwing money at schools is a bad bet. “I still don’t think that’s a good policy – that you have 61% very diverse studies [finding a relationship between spending and test scores] and you say I will bet the next billion dollars on it,” he said.
Jackson agrees that how the money is spent is important. But he also thinks Hanushek is missing the obvious conclusion from his own results.
“The vast majority of the time, whichever school districts choose to spend the money, they tend to improve outcomes,” he said. “I don’t see how you can look at this and then say we don’t have enough evidence to suggest we should just increase the funds.”
Other researchers have agreed that the variation in results is important, but that shouldn’t mean ignoring the overall impact. “The average effect still matters,” said Harvard professor West.
The new research has not stopped Hanushek’s advocacy work outside of academia. He continues to testify on behalf of States in court cases on whether schools should get more money, including in ongoing lawsuits in Arizona and Maryland. (Recently, he was paid $450 an hour for his time on these cases. Jackson was paid $300 an hour as an expert on the other side of the Maryland case.) more often, academic research indicates no significant improvement in student outcomes. despite increased funding,” Hanushek wrote last year in an expert report for the Maryland case.
Now, however, Hanushek’s own work contradicts his claim that most studies do not show a positive relationship. “When I gave this testimony, I didn’t have this summary,” Hanushek said, referring to similar comments as a witness in Pennsylvania. “I wouldn’t answer that way” if asked again, he said. But ultimately his thrust would be the same: “I would say there is no consistent effect.”
The Pennsylvania judge did not buy Hanushek’s claims, and ruled for plaintiffs who sued the state. Other judges and politicians, however, can be persuaded. Some policy makers, including the former education secretary Betsy DeVos, continue to claim that money will not improve schools. This mantra can become stronger. The schools received $190 billion in COVID relief since 2020, and while there has been little rigorous research on the effects of the money, many commentators have already argued that the funding has been misspent.
Meanwhile, despite the impression left by four decades of his work and legal testimony, Hanushek says he’s not really against more funding for schools. “I never said the money shouldn’t be spent on schools,” he said recently. He just thinks it needs to be used more effectively. For example, he would like to see additional resources allocated to attracting and retaining good teachers in very poor schools, a policy he found worked in Dallas.
So should policymakers spend more money on public schools, tied to certain requirements? Hanushek’s response: “Yes.”
Matt Barnum is a Spencer Fellow in Educational Journalism at Columbia University and a national reporter at Chalkbeat.