While overall spending in high schools has little effect on student achievement, larger expenditures on regular classroom instruction do lead to better performance, with higher teacher compensation showing the single largest effect, a study finds.
The state-funded study, by the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, examined the impact of high- school spending in North Carolina on results of students’ end-of-course exams, and took steps to account for student characteristics, teacher quality, and other factors.
“Our findings strongly suggest that more resources targeted to the low-performing schools and more effective use of existing resources will be needed to offset the effects of lower levels of student performance,” lead researcher Gary T. Henry, a fellow at the institute, said in an April 9 press release.
The study was commissioned by North Carolina Gov. Michael F. Easley, a Democrat, to examine whether low-performing schools can substantially improve student performance by using current levels of funding more efficiently, and whether high schools are making the most of the resources available to them.
North Carolina has already begun to target extra funds to high schools serving many students in poverty, says the report, which suggests those funds may not be used in the most effective ways.
In the 2005-06 academic year, the quarter of public high schools that serve the largest percentage of low-income students spent $7,930 per pupil, or about $1,500 more than the average for the quarter serving the lowest percentage of low-income students, the report says. However, the differences in spending were much smaller for regular classroom instruction, with an additional $300 per pupil in the highest-poverty quartile of schools.
Extra spending on “non-regular instruction”—such as supplementary instruction outside the normal school day and student services like guidance counseling—was actually associated with lower student test scores. The researchers suggest schools with especially hard-to-educate populations may have decided to spend more for such services, but might be better off focusing on the regular classroom.
A version of this article appeared in the April 23, 2008 edition of Education Week