For Immediate Release:
Thursday, July 25, 2002
10:00 a.m.

Contact: Frank Conte
Director, Communications & IS

BHI analysis: More money for education worsens MCAS scores

BOSTON - JULY 25. A new study by the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University finds that the upward surge in 2001 MCAS test scores had little to do with state funding of the Education Reform Act. This funding, which has risen from about $1.3 billion in 1993 to more than $3 billion currently, has, in fact, generally detracted from the state’s efforts to improve student test scores.

Using its Education Assessment Model, BHI examined the effects of increased spending on MCAS test scores, separated by grade (4th, 8th or 10th), by subject (English and Math) and according to a school district’s past performance. Specifically, BHI found that, for the biggest budget item, expenditures on teachers:

-Spending to raise teachers’ salaries worsened student performance in 13 of 18 instances, had no effect in four and improved performance in one.
- Spending to hire new teachers showed similar results. Smaller classes worsened performance in 10 instances and had no effect in the remaining eight.

BHI’s analysis of the effects of new spending on school management and on non-instructional items and activities showed mixed results. Changes in test scores, the study finds, are explained mainly by the approaching graduation requirement, by the efforts of individual districts and by socioeconomic factors.

The study suggests that schools are raising teachers’ salaries without commensurately raising teaching standards and that smaller classes may not contribute to, and may even detract from, teachers’ efforts to prepare students for the MCAS test.

“This is a stinging indictment of education reform,” said David G. Tuerck, Executive Director. “The legislature is raising taxes to feed billions of dollars into our schools without asking if those new dollars are bringing results. It’s time that someone start asking what the taxpayers are getting for their money.”

The study finds two areas in which policy makers can influence outcomes. The first relates to choice. By expanding opportunities for students to opt out of the public school system, policymakers can put pressure on the public schools to improve performance. By creating an environment that discourages dropping out, schools can improve the performance of 10th graders.

The second area has to do with the allocation of education dollars between policy options. While the study’s results are decidedly negative for most policy variables, one opportunity to improve results presents itself: Schools that have done well on past tests would benefit by increasing expenditures on school principals and by reducing expenditures in other areas (teachers’ salaries, non-instructional spending and faculty size).

Accountability stands out, however, as the one area of education reform that has yielded the best results, as measured by performance on the MCAS test. Starting next year, public high school seniors must pass the test in order to graduate. Said Tuerck: “The lesson of our study for the MCAS test is that you can get better scores without new spending. Just tell students that they won’t graduate if they don’t pass.”

The study, Getting Less for More: Lessons in Massachusetts Education Reform, was authored by Sanjiv Jaggia, David G. Tuerck and Tija Kurian. The study is available on the BHI website:


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