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Analysis Links Achievement And Spending

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Higher spending on schools does produce higher student achievement, a new research report contends.

In fact, researchers at the University of Chicago argue, studies widely cited as proof that increased spending is not tied to improved student performance actually demonstrate the opposite.

In a report to be published next month, the researchers maintain that the often-cited findings of Eric A. Hanushek, an economist and political-science professor at Rochester University, are not supported by the studies he analyzed.

Leading conservative critics of the public schools, including former U.S. Secretary of Education William J. Bennett, have championed Mr. Hanushek's conclusion that no systematic relationship exists between school expenditures and student performance.

That conclusion, often characterized as "throwing money at schools,'' has also been cited by state defendants in lawsuits across the country challenging school-finance disparities.

"This work has been the pillar upon which the counterintuitive notion that money does not matter in schools has been constructed,'' write Larry V. Hedges, Richard D. Laine, and Rob Greenwald in the April issue of Educational Researcher. "Yet the data upon which this conclusion is based support exactly the opposite conclusion and demonstrate that expenditures are positively related to school outcomes.''

In their examination of Mr. Hanushek's research sources, Mr. Hedges and his colleagues say strong ties are shown between student achievement and both per-pupil-funding levels and teacher experience.

Other factors, such as class size, teacher education, teacher salary, administrative staffing, and facilities, show less connection to achievement. But the researchers note that none of the studies examined shows that improvements in any of the areas have a negative effect on student performance.

"The evidence is pretty strikingly in contradiction with the standard conclusion,'' Mr. Hedges, a statistician and education professor, said last week in an interview. "In fact, the typical size of the relationship is enough to be of importance for making policy.''

'Money Matters After All'

Mr. Hanushek found that no systematic relationship existed between resources and results after examining several dozen previous studies and finding that only 20 percent of them proved a significant correlation. But the Chicago researchers argue that a closer examination of the studies finds a greater connection, one that is far more than would exist by chance.

"Relying on the data most often used to deny that resources are related to achievement, we find that money does matter after all,'' the report concludes.

Mr. Hanushek was out of the country last week and could not be reached for comment. In a written response to Educational Researcher to be published in May, however, he notes that recent years have seen both significant funding increases and lower test scores. He also says he stands by his findings, noting that his work has argued for more sophisticated education policy rather than pouring more money into the system to create improvement.

To observers who have seen Mr. Hanushek's research as ammunition for the foes of public schools, the Chicago researchers' findings offer a balance that has been lacking in previous debates.

"This plays a useful role,'' said Richard J. Murnane, an economist and professor at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education. "It is a mistake to say dollars don't make a difference, and it is also a mistake to say that across-the-board increases in a school district are an efficient use of money.''

That balanced approach is already the aim of most state education policymakers, who are looking for the best ways to invest both new and existing school funds, Mr. Murnane said.

"From a technical point of view, this work is trying to say something about how dollars affect student achievement, but there are many [other factors] that work in quite different ways,'' he added.

Indeed, in many respects "production-function'' studies of education have moved beyond Mr. Hanushek's question of whether money matters. The Chicago researchers point to weaknesses in both the age and limited information in the studies Mr. Hanushek used.

Where Does the Money Go?

The money-achievement conundrum is most likely to be solved when researchers can trace the ways money and authority are best used within school districts and buildings, experts said.

"In a gross sense, it is not how much you spend that matters, but how much you spend in the classroom,'' said Bruce S. Cooper, a professor of education and urban policy at Fordham University whose method of tracking school funds and accounting for costs has been used by states and districts. (See Education Week, March 17, 1993.)

"If we knew where the money was going, we would be closer to understanding whether it matters,'' Mr. Cooper said.

"More and more, people are saying that what we are getting for our money is not about tightening up the screws or speeding up the assembly line,'' added Sue E. Berryman, an education specialist at the World Bank.

"Just spending more money probably would help,'' said Mr. Hedges. "The research has been used as justification that we needn't consider adding resources. Money is related to outcomes, and the question is how do we wisely allocate those dollars.''

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