ALEC Issues Report Card on U.S. Education

Published February 1, 2003

In October 2002, the American Legislative Exchange Council released its ninth edition of the Report Card on American Education: A State-by-State Analysis, 1976-2001.

Written by Andrew T. LeFevre and Rea S. Hederman Jr., the lengthy report includes an analysis of achievement, educational resources, and demographic information for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Using data from the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics and the National Education Association, the authors present more than 100 measures of achievement and resources and more than 115 tables and figures.

Achievement Matters

In terms of academic achievement, the Report Card ranks Wisconsin, Washington, Minnesota, and Iowa as the top four states or jurisdictions, with New Mexico, Mississippi, the District of Columbia, and Louisiana making up the bottom four.

Of the top 10 states with the highest percentage increase in per-pupil expenditures over the past 20 years, not one also appeared in the top 10 for academic achievement. Similarly, no state that appeared in the top 10 for decreases in pupil-to-teacher ratio also appeared in the top 10 for academic achievement. Such data, according to the report, strengthen “the growing consensus that simply increasing spending on education is not enough to improve student performance.”

As the report notes, citing U.S. Census Bureau data, improved student performance and the achievement of basic academic milestones make a dramatic difference over the course of a person’s life. Without a high school diploma, the average person can expect to earn approximately $1 million over a 40-year period; with a high school diploma, those earning expectations rise 20 percent, to $1.2 million; and with at least a bachelor’s degree, expected earnings reach nearly $2.1 million.

“This only goes to reinforce what all parents clearly recognize–that their child’s education is critical to their future success,” write LeFevre and Hederman.

Inputs and Outputs

The Report Card includes historical information on educational resources, or “inputs,” such as per-pupil expenditures, teaching staff salaries, student-to-teacher ratios, and a state-by-state breakdown of the amount of funds received from large federal education programs. The book also presents each state’s academic quality indicators, or “outputs,” using test results from the SAT, ACT, and National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

Acknowledging an increasing growth and interest in school choice, the book ranks states by the degree of educational freedom given to families by taking into account the availability of charter schools, subsidized private schools, home schooling, and public-school choice.

Spending and Student Achievement

In addition to providing useful state-by-state data, the authors include statistical analysis. They use several methods to examine the relationship between inputs and outputs in order to determine what policies produce the best results.

The report finds the inputs favored by teacher unions and others in the education establishment, such as increased funding and smaller class sizes, yield little in terms of increased outputs. “Of all the educational inputs measured in this study,” the authors conclude, “only higher pupil-to-teacher ratios, fewer students per school, and a lower percentage of a state’s total budget received from the federal government have a positive impact on educational achievement.” The ALEC analysis effectively counters the notion that more federal money, more teachers, and sheer size make better schools.

For several decades, national and statewide per-pupil expenditures have escalated while average class sizes have fallen significantly. Per-pupil expenditures have increased by 22.6 percent in constant dollars over the past 20 years. Nevertheless, results from the 2000 NAEP test show only 26 percent of American eighth-graders are proficient in math. Other achievement tests show similarly disappointing results.

“We cannot simply spend our way to better grades, but must make sure that we are making the right kinds of investments in our schools to promote high student achievement,” noted Oklahoma State Senator Jim Dunlap, ALEC’s 2002 National Chairman. “We must find and focus on new, best practices that will increase accountability, discipline, and standards for not only students, but for teachers as well.”

Faced with tight budgets, states cannot afford to fund education programs simply by adding to last year’s appropriation. Instead, they must target funds toward policies proven to boost achievement. To do this and “to chart a course to success in the future,” policymakers must gain “a clear understanding of what has or has not worked in the past,” note LeFevre and Hederman. That is the aim of their book: to help “policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels understand what public education resources produce the best public education results.”

The handbook will be a good resource for the members of ALEC, the nation’s largest, bipartisan, voluntary organization of state legislators. It will also prove useful for other local, state, and federal policymakers as they tackle education reform in 2003.

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 October 2002 Report Card on American Education: A State-by-State Analysis, 1976-2001, by Andrew T. LeFevre and Rea S. Hederman, Jr., is available in hard copy (140 pages) for $25 from ALEC at 202/466-3800 or online at