ALEC Issues Report Card on American Education

Published February 1, 2004

“[T]he past two decades’ massive infusion of public dollars into K-12 education has done nothing to improve student performance as measured by nationally standardized tests.”

That’s the sobering conclusion of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s 10th edition of the Report Card on American Education: A State-By-State Analysis, 1980-2002, released in November 2003. In analyzing achievement and spending, authors Jack R. Stevens and Rea S. Hederman, Jr. found no correlation between education inputs–such as per-pupil spending and teacher salaries–and education outputs, such as achievement on standardized tests.

The report card provides statistics and analysis on achievement, educational expenditures, and resources, as well as demographic information, for all 50 states and the District of Columbia using data from the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, the College Board, the Census Bureau, ACT, Inc., and the National Education Association.

Student Performance

The report ranks states according to the performance of their students on the 2002 Scholastic Achievement Test (SAT) or the ACT assessment and the 2000 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) eighth-grade reading assessment. The top three states or jurisdictions were Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa. The bottom three were Louisiana, Mississippi, and the District of Columbia.

States with the largest increases in average composite SAT scores from 2001 to 2002 were North Dakota, Alaska, Colorado, and Montana. Wyoming and Utah experienced the largest declines.

Minnesota, Montana, Kansas, and Maine had the highest scores on the 2000 NAEP mathematics test, while Mississippi, Louisiana, and New Mexico had the lowest.

Nationwide, the 2002 NAEP fourth-grade reading assessment results were six points higher than on the 2000 test. However, the 2002 results were only two points higher than when the test was first administered in 1992. Also, scores for eighth graders stagnated while scores for twelfth graders declined.

Education Expenditures

States with the highest per-pupil expenditures in the 2000-2001 school year were New Jersey ($10,787), the District of Columbia ($10,252), Connecticut ($10,135), and New York ($9,935). The states that spent the least were Utah ($4,372), Arizona ($4,968), Arkansas ($5,269), Mississippi ($5,283), and Idaho ($5,386).

During the same year, average teacher salaries were the highest in New Jersey ($53,281), Connecticut ($52,100), and New York ($50,920). Average teacher salaries were the lowest in South Dakota ($30,265) and North Dakota ($30,891).

Lack of Correlation

The stagnation in student achievement over the past two decades took place during a period that also saw massive increases in spending, a rise in teacher salaries, and a reduction of the student-teacher ratio. From 1980 to 2000, per-pupil expenditures grew from $4,810 to $7,079. During the same period, the pupil-teacher ratio dropped from 19-1 to 16-1. Reviewing these data, the authors conclude there is no correlation between spending and achievement, or between education inputs and education outputs.

For example, of the states ALEC ranked highest–Washington, Iowa, and Wisconsin:

  • Iowa and Wisconsin receive less money from the federal government than most states;
  • Washington and Iowa rank in the bottom half of states on per-pupil spending;
  • Iowa ranks in the lower half on teacher salaries.

While Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa are the top-ranking states on the ACT test, they are ranked 21st, 25th, and 15th respectively on pupil-teacher ratios.

“Data compiled by this year’s Report Card belies any notion that these policy makers can spend their way out of the public school doldrums,” the authors conclude. “No combination or magnitude of public investments has improved average student scores on standardized tests. … It is time to at least examine other alternatives.”

Expanding Choices

One alternative increasingly being embraced by lawmakers and policymakers is to enhance parental choice through charter schools, tuition vouchers, and tuition tax credits or deductions. Those options provide the parents of public school children with the purchasing power necessary to choose the best schools for their children.

The ALEC report includes information on different parental choice options, including detailed information on charter school laws.

“[W]hat money cannot buy in our public schools, parental choice and inter-school competition may,” the authors write. “There is rapidly accumulating evidence that student productivity goes up where traditional public schools must compete for enrollment with charter schools or voucher and scholarship programs that empower parents to ‘shop’ for the best education for their children.”

Krista Kafer is senior policy analyst for education at The Heritage Foundation. Her email address is [email protected].

For more information …

The American Legislative Exchange Council’s November 2003 Report Card on American Education: A State-by-State Analysis, 1980-2002, by Jack R. Stevens and Rea S. Hederman, Jr., is available online at