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NEPC Review: Money for Nothing: The Relationship Between Various Types of School Spending and Academic Outcomes (Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, August 2018)

The cost and productivity of schools is hotly debated across the nation. Left-leaning groups argue for equitable funding and equality of opportunity. Right-leaning organizations contend that costs are too high and money is unwisely used. The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) joins this debate with Money for Nothing, which claims that Wisconsin does not get a good return on its educational investment. The report is based on three analyses: (a) of the ratio of non-teachers to teachers, (b) of per-pupil spending, and (c) of teacher pay. The report suggests there are too many non-teachers, per-pupil spending is not linked to higher outcomes, and teacher pay makes no difference in test scores. But critical errors in study design fundamentally negate these conclusions. The report flounders in arguing causality from correlation and misinterpreting statistical significance as representing meaningful policy effects. While “statistically significant” in many cases, the results are minuscule. This leads to false or unsupported conclusions clouded by the omission of critical details that prevent replication or confirmation. Rife with undocumented policy claims, the results run contrary to the literature on spending, administrator effects, and teacher effects. Unfortunately, no literature review is provided. The report fails to address the efficacy of interventions such as class size and early high-quality childhood education. The off-point theoretical base, flawed assumptions and meager findings shows the report earned its title, “money for nothing,” which could leave unsuspecting policymakers in dire straits. 

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