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The Productivity Collapse in Schools

Eric A. Hanushek
Published Date: 
In William J. Fowler, Jr. (Ed.)
Developments in School Finance, 1996
Washington, DC: National Center for Educational Statistics, U.S. Department of Education
pp. 183-195

A minor controversy has developed over the pattern of productivity in public schools. A prima facie case for a productivity collapse can be found in the rapidly rising spending on schools over the past quarter century with no apparent improvement in student achievement (Hanushek et al. 1994). There are, of course, a number of factors that could contribute to these aggregate trends and therefore could provide an alternative explanation other than a productivity collapse. One explanation receiving considerable publicity concentrates not on fundamental changes in students or schools but on pure measurement issues (Rothstein and Miles 1995; Misheland Rothstein 1996). The central issue in their discussion is how to allow for the effects of inflation in measuring school spending. While not their interpretation, the position taken here is that their analysis provides perhaps the most persuasive case for a productivity collapse that is currently available.