Chris Ryan and I have a new paper out today, looking at trends in the literacy and numeracy of Australian schoolchildren. Here’s the abstract (click on the title to read the full paper):
How Has School Productivity Changed in Australia?
Andrew Leigh & Chris Ryan
Using two series of data that ask overlapping questions to successive cohorts, we estimate how the literacy and numeracy skills of young Australian teenagers (aged 13-14) have changed over time. We find a small but statistically significant fall in numeracy over the period 1964-2003, and in both literacy and numeracy over the period 1975-1998. The decline is in the order of one-tenth to one-fifth of a standard deviation. Adjusting this decline for changes in student demographics does not affect this conclusion; if anything, the decline appears to be more acute. Next, we estimate long-run changes in real per-child school expenditure. This estimate varies somewhat according to the treatment of private spending, and the chosen price index, but our preferred estimate suggests that real per-child school expenditure increased by 10 percent over the period 1975-1998, and by 258 percent over the period 1964-2003. This increase in spending funded a substantial reduction in student-teacher ratios. Measuring productivity in terms of literacy and numeracy points per dollar, our results imply that the productivity of Australian schools may have fallen over the past 3-4 decades. Although we cannot account for all the phenomena that might have affected test score results, we identify a number of plausible factors that might have led to a drop in school productivity.