Report Nº: 100826/03/2023
The deterioration of education is alarming. But more worrying yet is the consensus around the idea that the solution lies in education budget increases. The evidence shows that to reverse the education decline it is much more important to improve management than to increase the education budget.
The great deterioration suffered by the Argentine education system is nothing new. The results of the latest Aprender tests report that 50% of the children in state schools who in 2021 were in 6th grade have insufficient or basic skills in reading and mathematics. In plain words, half of primary school students do not know how to read, write, add, or subtract. With these basic weaknesses, the resounding failure in secondary school and the proposals to allow the accumulation of many non-approved previous subjects in order to reduce grade repetition and dropouts should not be surprising.
Is there anything worse than this long and deep decline in education? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. More serious yet is the strong consensus on the bad idea that this can be solved with more budget. This idea is not only held by politicians from different ideological branches, but also by education specialists and social communicators.
Comparing per-student spending and educational results in three jurisdictions with similar characteristics, some clarifying ideas can be obtained. According to data from the Ministry of Education referring to the year 2021 it is observed that:
These data show that the size of the education budget is not the main determinant of educational outcomes. The Buenos Aires City spends almost twice as much as Córdoba on public education per student and has similar results in terms of children failing at primary level. The province of Santa Fe spends more than Cordoba with worse results. For Santa Fe to improve educational results the path forward is not the Buenos Aires City which spends more, but Cordoba which manages better.
The decisive factor for better education is management. According to the Ministry of Education, in Buenos Aires City there are 7 students per teaching position, while in Córdoba there are 18 students per teaching position. This is not due to more personalized education in Buenos Aires City. Instead, it is because teacher absenteeism is much higher. The public resources squandering paying salaries to teachers who do not educate explains why, even with higher spending on education, Buenos Aires City pays lower salaries to teachers. Mismanagement leads to the fact that the salary of a primary school teacher with 10 years of seniority in Buenos Aires City is $123 thousand, while in Córdoba is $153 thousand.
Together with the idea that the solution is to increase the education budget, the other mistaken consensus states that a great national education policy is needed. This leads to the incoherence of the federal government paying part of the teacher’s salary when basic education is a provincial exclusive responsibility. This contributes to the provinces’ excuses for bad results under the cover that they do not receive enough support from the federal level instead of concentrating on improving their administrative and pedagogical management capacities. Canada is a federal country with excellent educational results, and no national education ministry. Each Canadian state administers its own system and, based on fair competition and emulation of best practices, each state achieves good national results.
The fight for more educational budgets can be explained by opportunism or by error. In both cases, it is functional to vested interests. Putting students first requires each province to focus on improving management and not shirk its responsibility for poor results. The main contribution to education by the federal state is to deepen the good practice adopted by the national Ministry of Education of providing statistics to evaluate education in each province, and for the population to put pressure on their local governments to improve results.