When asked about levels of spending on public schools, Americans are likely to vastly underestimate the amount that schools spend.
That’s the finding of Is the Price Right? Probing American’s knowledge of school spending, a 2007 survey project produced by EducationNext, a project of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
Here are the findings on school spending estimates:
How well informed is the public about these financial commitments? Not very. Among those asked without the prompt listing possible expenses, the median response was $2,000, or less than 20 percent of the true amount being spent in their districts. Over 90 percent of the public offered an amount less than the amount actually spent in their district, and more than 40 percent of the sample claimed that annual spending was $1,000 per pupil or less. The average estimate of $4,231 reflects the influence of a small percentage of individuals who offered extremely high figures. Even so, the average respondent’s estimate was just 42 percent of actual spending levels in their district.
Even when promoted with a range of possible spending amounts, people still greatly underestimated the amount of spending.
The study also asked about teacher salaries and found that people also underestimated them, although not by the large factor observed with school spending. There is also discussion of whether subgroups performed better than others in their knowledge of facts about school spending.
In conclusion, the study states:
In sum, Americans think that far less is being spent on the nation’s public schools than is actually the case. The vast majority of the public thinks we spend amounts that can only be described as minuscule, and almost 96 percent of the public underestimate either per-pupil spending in their districts or teacher salaries in their states. … At this point, though, one matter seems certain: whatever motivates people’s concerns about school finance, it is not sound information about what is actually being spent.
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