04 July 2011

Good bye, Jerry Weast. Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

EconLog | Arnold Kling | Difference-Makers in Education

On the topic of educators making a difference [referring to the Yglesias post I discussed earlier], the local paper compares the state of our schools before and after the tenure of our rock-star superintendent, Jerry Weast.
Per Pupil Spending (just Operating Budget Divided By Enrollment):

Fiscal 2000: $8,460 [note: translates to $11, 475 in 2011 dollars]
Fiscal 2011: $14,580

Graduation Rate (using Maryland Leaver Rate):

1999: 91.49%
2010: 90.01%
So, basically, Weast raised per-pupil spending by 25 percent more than inflation, and got pretty much no results to show for it.

It seems to me that it is relatively easy to get people to come around to the view that more health care spending does not necessarily improve health outcomes. But it is really, really hard to get people to come around to the view that more education spending does not necessarily improve education outcomes.

And I don't believe people want to think through their beliefs. I had a Matt Yglesias moment when I asked an incumbent of the school board what he thought accounted for the huge disparity in college attendance between the high schools in Potomac and those in my area. He gave me a litany of factors having nothing to do with schools. Yet he was all about increasing school spending.

Robin Hanson famously says that spending on medical services is all about "showing that you care." I believe that the same holds for spending on education. It's about showing good intent, not about obtaining results.
(1) Yes, education spending is largely about Doing Something! Doesn't matter if that something works or not, because intentions are all that matter in this game. Outcomes are for jerks.

(2) These numbers probably understate per-pupil spending because (I believe) there are a lot of dollars spent out of separate funds which are not included in the official "operating budget." For instance, I think "independent activity funds" — managed (or mismanaged) by each school independently of HQ — don't count in the operating budget. I believe debt service is also handled by the county directly, and doesn't count towards the school system's ongoing expenses.

Here's the Examiner on some of MCPS's very recent "budgetary legerdemain."

(3) I used to think Weast was an insufferable, insulting, self-aggrandizing, prevaricating, stuff-shirted cretin who needs a weather man to know which way the wind blows. Now I know he's all that and an unaccomplished wastrel as well.

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