The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

A Common Problem in U.S. Education

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


The Common Core State Standards Initiative, originally sponsored by the National Governor’s Association, and supported by President Obama, will change the way students are tested and how teachers will teach by the year 2014.  If there’s any confusion on what that means, just read the Common Core’s mission statement: “The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers.”  Already, 45 states and the District of Columbia have voluntarily adopted these standards, readying themselves for full implementation next year.  The Common Core’s mission statement certainly sounds admirable, but questions still exist regarding what it means for taxpayers.

According to an August 30, 2013 report conducted by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, a non-partisan service agency of the Wisconsin Legislature, the new Common Core standards will cost Wisconsinites about $25 million to implement.  In an article on the same topic, Wisconsin representative Mandy Wright (D-Wausau) stated that even though the price tag might be high, it is all worth it: “I do think it’s a significant amount of funding, and nothing to be borne lightly; however, we do need to move forward.”  Instead of “moving forward,” why don’t we stop and take a look at the facts concerning the cost of education in the United States.

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) stated in a 2012 report that in the 1961-62 school year the cost to educate a pupil in the U.S. was $2,835 in constant 2009-10 dollars.  About 20 years later, in the 1980-81 school year, the cost increased to $5,773.  And, again, 20 years after that, in the 2000-01 school year, the cost was $9,135 per pupil.  With the rapid increase of educational spending over the last 50 years, one would think student results would be close to perfect by now.

Unfortunately, national results conclude that between 1994 and 2001, the knowledge of basic U.S. history for twelfth grade students in high school remained the same.  In a 2001 NCES report, national results show that average mathematics performance score declined between 1996 and 2000.  The Common Core is supposed to fix the dilemma of stagnating scores by throwing even more money at the problem.  To that end, the Obama Administration is requesting $71 billion for education in fiscal Year (FY) 2014, which is a 4 percent increase from FY 2013.  Instead of the federal government putting resources into making the perfect federal standardized test, it should help states and local governments cater to their students’ individual needs.

Alliance for Excellent Education notes in an October 2007 study that about 1.2 million students did not graduate high school in 2007.  Over a lifetime, dropouts contribute around $60,000 less in taxes than those that have graduated high school.  This equates to $72 billion in taxes that the U.S. will lose when you factor in the 1.2 million students that didn’t graduate in 2007.

Throwing money at the education crisis has not kept the country’s students from falling behind.  A top-down approach to public education will only lead to higher costs, more complexities, and disappointing national results.

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