Coulson’s selective reading skills…again!

Posted on September 14, 2009

So… I’m browsing the Cato web site and Andrew Coulson’s blog entries this morning and find  post where Coulson explains that a 2008 study shows that spending more on K-12 education reduces economic growth (9-2-09 post).

So, I look at the study. Here are the first two sentences of the conclusion section of that study:

“Overall, our findings indicate that the three most consistent predictors of income growth are expenditures on higher education, highway expenditures, and K12 pupil–teacher ratios. They consequently contribute to the debate over the effects of class size, by supporting the body of research asserting that smaller classes make a positive difference (e.g., Burr 2001; Glass and Smith 1978; McGiverin et al. 1989).”

Is there a reason why this wasn’t cited? It’s the main conclusion of the study? Does Coulson expect his readers not to actually make the effort to … read the study? and it’s findings? Even a lazy jump to the conclusions (all I could muster this morning) casts a very different light on the study than Coulson’s one liner: “State-run schooling has become so profligate and inefficient, in fact, that one recent study finds higher public school spending is associated with LOWER subsequent economic growth.”

Note that class sizes are perhaps the most significant driver of K-12 education expenditures.Yes, the same study does show a negative relationship between the education spending measure and economic growth, but in a model which also includes the pupil to teacher ratio measure – which makes interpreting the spending measure somewhat trickier. That is higher spending – at constant pupil to teacher ratio (which strongly affects spending) – is associated with lower growth. This is certainly not the same as a bold conclusion that spending more on K-12 education lowers growth.