Identifying Which Investments Pay Off

Half a century ago, when sociologist James Coleman was tasked by the U.S. Department of Education with studying educational inequality, a good school was regarded as one that featured teachers with advanced degrees, a well-stocked library, state-of-the-art science labs and the like. The assumption was that these “inputs” were key to students’ success. But the bottom line of the 737-page “Equal Educational Opportunity Survey,” known as the Coleman Report, was dynamite. Families mattered most, schools mattered less — and extra resources didn’t seem to matter much at all.

Battles over whether bigger school budgets can make a difference have raged since.
Those who say more money doesn’t improve education point out that after five decades of K-12 funding increases, 17-year-olds’ reading and math scores on the National Assessment of Student Progress, the nation’s report card, haven’t budged.

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