Short and Not the Point

  San Diego Harbor ID’d by Kevin Byrne.  Statue of iconic photo of sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square, New York City on Aug. 14, 1945, V-J Day–always something to think about and remember.

Sometimes I think the OCPA’s heartburn with public education is really that they don’t want an educated electorate so they can feed us all the same silly drivel and their busy readers, like Oklahoma legislators, will swallow without checking.  A recent post by “Contributor” Vicki Alger on January 10, 2017 says this:

Oklahoma’s per-pupil spending is up, student-teacher ratio is flat

According to the latest available data from the National Center for Education Statistics, since 1999 the number of students per teacher in Oklahoma’s public school system has risen from 15.7 to 16.2. Per-pupil spending has risen from $8,624 to $9,728.

Source: National Center for Education Statistics. Real per-pupil expenditures (in 2013-14 dollars) shown include capital outlay and debt service expenditures and are calculated based on average daily attendance.

It is accompanied by this graph, the fairly flat line being the students per teacher ratio over time and the other being the expenditures:

I doubt that Vicki Alger, who is with a California equivalent of the OCPA, wrote the headline.  The brief text of what she likely did provide says that both data streams, the pupil/teacher ratio and the expenditures per pupil, have risen.  So why does headline say the expenditures are up (deceivingly true) but the pupil/teacher ratio is flat (absolutely false)?  Answer:  whether true or false that is the message the OCPA fellows are hired to proselytize.   The message is that the bloated public education blob has more and more money but it must be wasted because clearly it’s not going to the classroom, i.e. lowering class sizes.

The graph of any data series, no matter how much it varies, will appear flat if you use a large enough scale on the vertical axis.   Here’s where Alger says she got her data.

When I look at the most recent and earlier tables needed to fill in all the data points, such as the current “Table 208.40. Public elementary and secondary teachers, enrollment, and pupil/teacher ratios, by state or jurisdiction: Selected years, fall 2000 through fall 2013” on the NCES website, I see the entry “15.1”, not “15.7” for 1999 (found in the 2004 “Table 66.  Teachers, enrollment, and pupil/teacher ratios in public elementary and secondary schools, by state or jurisdiction: Fall 1997 to fall 2002”).  We’ll suppose the OCPA is just sloppy and not trying to shave 0.6 off the rise in the pupil/teacher ratio. 

Using the correct data and a more reasonable scaling on the vertical axis the graph now looks like this:

For more readability you can click here for a pdf of my spreadsheet.

PT Ratio 99 to 13 Chart Smaller

Regardless it is clear that the headline statement “student-teacher ratio is flat” is just a flat lie.  From 1999 to 2013 it rose from 15.1 to 16.2, an increase of 7.3%.  From its lowest level, just before the Great Recession and the wholesale decimation of Oklahoma’s tax base as recommended by the OCPA, in 2007 of 13.7 it has increased 18.2% to the 16.2 they characterized as “flat”.  They must believe you and I are limited-thinkers.

I could not find original data on the NCES website that mirrored the “Real per pupil expenditure (in 2013-14 dollars)” shown in Alger’s graph.  The closest current tables I found were Table 236.70

        Current expenditure per pupil in average daily attendance in public elementary and secondary schools, by state or jurisdiction: Selected years, 1969-70 through 2013-14

and Table 236.75

Total and current expenditures per pupil in fall enrollment in public elementary and secondary schools, by function and state or jurisdiction: 2013-14

Alger’s data is based on “total and current expenditures”, using “average daily attendance” instead of enrollment, with amounts adjusted to “2013-14 dollars” for inflation.  None of the current tables I see on the NCES site incorporate all three elements so I’m guessing Alger did some actual work to arrive at her numbers.  What is interesting is that combining all three of these elements together will generate the largest possible amount for each year in the data set.  Students miss school so using average daily attendance which is lower than daily enrollment generates a higher ratio (dividing by a smaller number).  “Total and Current” expenditures adds capital spending into the equation—increasing the numerator makes for a larger ratio.  And finally using “real dollars” means increasing the ratios for past years by the amount of inflation that has since occurred.  Good arguments can be made for these changes, just interesting that each has the effect of making the expenditure per student amounts greater which supports the OCPA narrative that the public education blob is bloated.

Since I couldn’t replicate her numbers I took the easy way out and used current Table 236.70, and its predecessors, to generate the data set that produces a graph very similar to Alger’s expenditure per student, just lower numbers.  Here is the graph and table:

Or click here for a possibly clearer version:  PPExpend 00 to 14 Chart Smaller

The most recent year, 2013-14 at $8,526 appears larger than every earlier year.  However 2009-10 at $8,511 (capturing the early flow of ARRA funding thanks to President Obama and Congress for prioritizing public education in designing the economic stimulus to counter the Great Recession) is a close second and in current dollars, according to ( an official inflation calculator, would be worth $9,240 in 2013-14. 

Therefore the real message/point of the data from the NCES is that in recent years the pupil/teacher ratio has not remained flat, rather it has increased 18.2%; and expenditures per pupil in current dollars have not increased, but rather have declined by 7.7% from the high point at the beginning of the Great Recession.   That is a not so short and very different point than the OCPA drivel.

As always lunch is on me for the first to identify the location of the photo.  Congrats to Kevin.

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