ON-Lion Letter

"Public perceptions that most of Wisconsin's public schools are excellent or even above average are not true," according to an April report from the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) in Milwaukee.  Diminishing Returns in K-12 Education "examines the state of K-12 education in Wisconsin and analyzes the effectiveness of spending on public education.

"The U.S. spends more on education than other nations, yet lags behind in student outcomes," the report finds.  "In 2011, the United States spent $11,841 for every student enrolled in primary and secondary public schools.  This level is the 5th highest among economically developed countries (OECD) and $2,973 per pupil (or 34%) higher than the OECD average ....  And yet, despite spending lavishly, the United States has not created a world-class educational system.  Among the OECD countries, the U.S. ranks 27th in math, 17th in reading, and 20th in science.

"The K-12 education system in Wisconsin is a microcosm of the United States," it continues.  "In a country that spends more on public education than nearly every other OECD country, Wisconsin spends over $1,000 more than the U.S. average, ranking 16th out of 50 states.  Yet, like the U.S., Wisconsin does not seem to be receiving a good return when measured against global benchmarks.

"By using OECD data from the Global Report Card, we were able to compare the average student in Wisconsin and in individual school districts to those in other economically developed countries," Diminishing Returns goes on.  "The average public school student in Wisconsin scores better than only 52% of students in the international group on reading and 47% of students in math.  While this could be defended as average -- for those willing to settle for mediocrity -- remember that Wisconsin spends $3,078 more per pupil than these other countries."

The econometric analysis by WILL's education research director Martin F. Lueken also finds:

*  "No consistent relationship between real (i.e. inflation-adjusted) per-pupil spending by districts and student performance on the ACT.

*  "No consistent relationship between real per-pupil spending by districts and the proportion of students in a district who finish high school as college-ready.

*  "No consistent relationship between real per-pupil spending by districts and students' performance on" Wisconsin's state exams; and,

*  "No consistent relationship between real per-pupil spending by districts and graduation rates. 

"Our study concludes that Wisconsin's K-12 public education system needs drastic reform.  We spend too much for too little in student achievement.  While school choice -- the allocation of vouchers and growth of independent charter schools -- may not be a silver bullet, it could be part of the solution."

Milwaukee's Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation substantially supports WILL.

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