It’s easy to think that the United States doesn’t spend enough on education: looking around at the state of our schools, inequality among demographics, and our dated curriculum one can quickly assess that our school system does not receive enough funding. While spending more money couldn’t hurt, is it the biggest determinant of quality education?
Japan is perhaps the best example to show us that no, it is not. Japan spends roughly .5% of their GDP on education, compared to the US’s almost 1.0% (these numbers fluctuate when counting public & private expenditures, up to 3.5% and 5.0%, respectively.) It can be difficult to find exact numbers on a country’s educational expenditures, but comparing relative data reveals the same trend — that money is not the entire story. In fact, the US spends the most per-pupil K-12 than any other country, second only to Switzerland by a small margin, according to an OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) 2013 study.
Japan, Korea, Australia, Germany, and Poland all spend less on education but outperform American students on national tests. Conversely, France, Portugal, Ireland, and Austria spend more than the US but perform worse on national tests. (Expenditures are in terms of percentage of GDP, and test scores are averaged across disciplines.) Other countries, like Finland and China, spend much more on education, and outperform heavily on national tests. China does not officially release its figures, but from third-party estimates spends almost 4% of their GDP on education, and simply dominates the charts of national test scores.
Recently I came across this data and presented it to a class at Portland State University, and then asked the class what this data could reflect in terms of money vs performance. From our readings, we learned that teacher quality was the single biggest factor when gauging student outcomes. So, quite simply, more money means access to better teachers here in America. Our class determined, because of our national testing system, that good teachers are moving out of the public sector in favor of private sector jobs because they have more autonomy in the classroom.
The US spends a lot per-pupil, but arguably does not invest in equitable, and quality, teacher training, and also expects teachers to follow stringent curricula based on tests and not life skills. Other countries follow a more “discipline-based” learning style that focuses on developing life skills like research, critical thinking, assessment and collaboration, whereas much of the US’s curriculum focuses on memorization-and-recall, with multiple-choice testing platforms replacing essay-based answers.
While I personally think that the US could spend more on education, global data suggests that quality education is less about money and more about curriculum.
Readers, what are your thoughts on this?