Wisconsin vs. Texas: Whose Students Perform?

Paul Krugman bemoaned the performance of Texas schools two weeks ago. Basically he associated how little Texas spends on education with how poorly our students do.

David Burge at Iowahawk thought there might be something wrong with Krugman’s numbers. So decided to compare Wisconsin, with above-average spending per student of $10, 680, and Texas, with below-average spending per student of $8,320 (2008 numbers, latest available). Of course, his primary reason is that Wisconsin is newly notorious for its collective bargaining, and Texas is a state which allows no public-employee collective bargaining. Burge then broke down the only comparable set of numbers he could find, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, by ethnic group. The results were instructive.

You can read the results on his original blog or on Harvard professor Paul Peterson’s blog. (Peterson basically endorses Bluge’s conclusions.) Bluge defends his methodology here. But, for convenience’s sake, here they are:

2009 4th Grade Math

White students: Texas 254, Wisconsin 250 (national average 248)
Black students: Texas 231, Wisconsin 217 (national 222)
Hispanic students: Texas 233, Wisconsin 228 (national 227)

2009 8th Grade Math

White students: Texas 301, Wisconsin 294 (national 292)
Black students: Texas 272, Wisconsin 254 (national 260)
Hispanic students: Texas 277, Wisconsin 268 (national 266)

2009 4th Grade Reading

White students: Texas 232, Wisconsin 227 (national 229)
Black students: Texas 213, Wisconsin 192 (national 204)
Hispanic students: Texas 210, Wisconsin 202 (national 204)

2009 8th Grade Reading

White students: Texas 273, Wisconsin 271 (national 271)
Black students: Texas 249, Wisconsin 238 (national 245)
Hispanic students: Texas 251, Wisconsin 250 (national 248)

2009 4th Grade Science

White students: Texas 168, Wisconsin 164 (national 162)
Black students: Texas 139, Wisconsin 121 (national 127)
Hispanic students: Wisconsin 138, Texas 136 (national 130)

2009 8th Grade Science

White students: Texas 167, Wisconsin 165 (national 161)
Black students: Texas 133, Wisconsin 120 (national 125)
Hispanic students: Texas 141, Wisconsin 134 (national 131)

In every category, as you can see, low-spending, non-unionized Texas beats high-spending, very-unionized Wisconsin.


  • Go Frogs

    More reason why Wisconsin $uck$

  • Obama’s Seat


  • JS

    Go Wisconsin Hispanic 4th grade science students!

  • Dudosa hermano

    One has to wonder what the union run schools in Wisconsin would be like if they were faced with the influx of illegal immigrants that Texas has been facing for the past decade. They have the winter barrier to protect them from ever finding out.

  • Enrique De La Fuente

    But compare those numbers with NJ. Then what?

  • Paul Krugman is a prime example of accomplished, award winning experts who talk out of their posteriors when it comes to subjects outside of their specialized expertise.

    (Other notable examples: Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter, Mikhail Gorbachev, Ed Mazria.)

  • smithdew

    @El Ray

    Behold…what I find to be one of Krugman’s most memorable quotes:

    “…we should never be surprised when prominent people say foolish things about economics. The history of economic doctrines teaches us that the influence of an idea may have nothing to do with its quality–that an ideology can attract a devoted following, even come to control the corridors of power, without a shred of logic or evidence in its favor.”

  • Luzer

    So, this means both, Texas and Wisconsin, students aren’t too bright? I concur!

  • Jackson

    Wick, I was unaware that the issue of collective bargaining for public school teachers had anything to do with student test scores. I still am.

    The issue of collective bargaining for public union employees is — correct me if I’m wrong — strictly an economic issue relating wholly to the salaries and benefits that accrue to those employees and, by extension, their families.

    Let’s consider a comparable metric in a different field: Do cops, firefighters and EMS who are denied collective bargaining have faster 9-1-1 response times?

  • Obama’s Seat

    “Wick, I was unaware that the issue of collective bargaining for public school teachers had anything to do with student test scores.”

    Maybe you should take it up with Krugman and the Economist, the folks who came up with the idea.

  • Jackson

    @Obama’s Seat, Paul Krugman’s column didn’t even mention collective bargaining. He certainly didn’t equate it with student test scores, so I don’t see how he “came up with the idea.”

    But you (and Wick) seem to share the idea that collective bargaining and test scores do somehow equate. After all, you’re saying that not having collective bargaining makes test scores go up.

    Color me unclear.

  • Randy Mayeux

    This is all very interesting, but how about paying attention to what Krugman actually wrote. He specifically referred to the high school graduation rate in Texas. That is the number he used. Here’s the key paragraph:

    “And in low-tax, low-spending Texas, the kids are not all right. The high school graduation rate, at just 61.3 percent, puts Texas 43rd out of 50 in state rankings. Nationally, the state ranks fifth in child poverty; it leads in the percentage of children without health insurance. And only 78 percent of Texas children are in excellent or very good health, significantly below the national average.”

    I could not find the rankings for high school graduation rates that he used, but I found this chart:

    Texas: 2007/2008, high school graduation rate: 73.1%
    Wisconsin: 2007/2008, high school graduation rate: 89.6%

    So — if the Texas superiority is so clear, why do so many more students make it all the way through to high school graduation in Wisconsin?

    I am a Texan — but I believe that with this many years of Republican-run government, the proof may just be in the pudding…and a very low high school graduation rate is not what we should be happy with, much less aspire to…

  • Jackson

    It seems we can stop debating this collective bargaining question, at least through the prism of what’s happening in Wisconsin.

    The Badger State’s Republican governor, Scott Walker, has apparently blinked first, and has been blinking since Sunday, children’s test scores be damned! MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow reported as much Tuesday evening, and the Fox News website has now posted this AP story about the still-tenuous arrangement:

    “Under the compromise floated by Walker and detailed in {newly released} e-mails {from as far back as Sunday}, workers would be able to continue bargaining over their salaries with no limit, a change from his original plan…He also proposed compromises allowing collective bargaining to stay in place on mandatory overtime, performance bonuses, hazardous duty pay and classroom size for teachers. The increased contributions for health insurance and pensions, which would save the state $330 million by mid-2013, would remain. The unions and Democrats {had already} agreed to those concessions…”

    In-state polling shows that Walker badly overplayed this gambit, and he obviously began to realize it as his numbers continued to roll downward, like a snowball headed for hell. (Merle always has a line that works!)


  • Dudosa hermano

    @Jackson – You are correct, Krugman’s anti-Texas column did not mention collective bargaining but he slips the subject in this way – “(By the way, given the current efforts to blame public-sector unions for state fiscal problems, it’s worth noting that the mess in Texas was achieved with an overwhelmingly nonunion work force.).”
    Krugman has no children but has made his living as a professor at several universities including Yale, Berkeley and Princeton which along with his New York upbringing makes him an expert on all things Texas including the schools.
    Now he may say that he became an expert on Texas when he was consulting with Enron back when they were setting up their energy trading scams and off shore partnerships. Funny how the Enron scam didn’t bother him then just like the recent New York financial scams seemed to slip right past him – names like Bernie Madoff, Marc Dreier, Marvin Friedman, Dan Zwirn, Michael Lauer, Ken Lipper, Edward Strafali, Sam Israel ……
    Krugman would do well to focus on the financial sewer known as New York and keep his uneducated opinions about Texas to himself.

  • Dudosa hermano

    @Randy – Wisconsin is about 1/5 the population of Texas and the Hispanic population of Texas is greater than the entire population of Wisconsin. To compare high school graduation rates is truly apples to oranges. The Milwaukee high school graduation rate was as low as 50% as recently as 10 years ago – a school voucher program has helped increase that rate to closer to 70%. Would a fair comparison be Highland Park ISD graduation rate to Milwaukee SD?

  • Jeremiah Davis

    Why use racial distinction rather than “All Students”?

    2009 4th Grade Math | All Students: Texas 240, Wisconsin 244

    Wisconsin beats Texas in every category when the full student population is considered. Using an equal-weighted averaging across all categories produces the following rank.

    WI: #18
    TX: #34

    NAEP State Comparisons

  • Jeremiah Davis

    As for Simpson’s Paradox, racial partitioning of the aggregate data is arbitrary and leads to a false result.

  • Jackson

    @Dudosa hermano, you write that “Krugman would do well to focus on the financial sewer known as New York and keep his uneducated opinions about Texas to himself.” The “uneducated” Nobel winner writes an op-ed column for a national newspaper. His employer’s portfolio isn’t limited to its masthead’s namesake, and hasn’t been since, oh, about World War I.

    I carry no brief for the guy and he usually bores me. Still, it’s unfortunate that your reply about him is exclusively ad hominem and comes off as nothing so much as provincial: “Honey, what’s some &%$#@ New Yorker doin’ trashin’ our state? Let’s get a rope.”

    It just hit me. You’re Trey Garrison operating under a pseudonym, right?

  • Obama’s Seat

    @Obama’s Seat, Paul Krugman’s column didn’t even mention collective bargaining. He certainly didn’t equate it with student test scores, so I don’t see how he “came up with the idea.”

    Read the Economist.

  • Obama’s Seat

    So – if the Texas superiority is so clear, why do so many more students make it all the way through to high school graduation in Wisconsin?



  • Zoe

    Hey, how about everyone stop debating about data that can easily be manipulated and spend an hour or two volunteering at a public high school with poor graduation rates? It might give you some insights into why graduation rates are lower in some schools and you might come up with some great ideas to suggest to our legislators (of both parties) who don’t seem to get it.

  • Grumpy Demo

    Shorter Burge:

    Texas doesn’t look so bad is you cherry pick and cook the data.

    Mark Twain said it best:

    “Figures lie and liars figure”

  • Obama’s Seat

    Zoe: been there, done that.


  • Dudosa hermano

    @Jackson – The boy has probably not been to Texas since he was suckling on the Enron teet over 10 years ago. His article was an uneducated attack against Texas and our schools. If New York and Wisconsin want to save our children we have a few million in undocumented families that we could bus their way and they can add them to their statistics and withdraw them from ours.

  • Obama’s Seat

    “Figures lie and liars figure”

    OK, I’ll bite, which of the figures provided by Iowahawk are lies?

  • Jackson

    @Dudosa hermano, you write that we in Texas “have a few million in undocumented families that we could bus their way and they can add them to their statistics and withdraw them from ours.”

    That’s nice, but they’re our undocumented families, not someone else’s, and such paternalism on your part goes hand in hand with your previously expressed provincialism. You’re now a “two-fer,” as we say in Tejas!

    I was recently in the Valley, at the ancestral home of a wealthy family whose residence makes the houses on Beverly Drive seem quaint. Their “spread” of several hundred acres dates to the Spanish Land Grants (history lesson: that’s even older than Mexican Land Grants). We’ll never match the taxes they pay into the state treasury, and after hundreds of years, their clan exists on both sides of the border, with blood relatives both legal and non, rich and poor, and so it has always been. People like them comprise the vast majority of the folks to whom you refer. Their lineage predates ours by centuries. The notion that some blog commenter in Big D thinks he/she can just bus ’em out of state shows a lack of full-bodied comprehension.

    Why did you even bring illegal aliens into it? I mean, I appreciate your politically correct use of the term “undocumented,” but that has nothing to do with ending collective bargaining in Wisconsin, the point of this thread and Wick’s blog entry.

    Besides, available data reveal that our illegal residents pay in more through sales and property taxes than they take out (link below). We make money, and they pull the lettuce that you buy at Tom of T.H.U.M.B. But again, that wasn’t the focus of this colloquy.


  • Obama’s Seat

    Solution to the collapse of social programs? Why, open the borders.

  • Dudosa hermano

    @Jackson – The point that I was making is that in Texas our high school graduation statistics are skewed downward by the illegal alien population that we have and that Wisconsin does not have. Krugman in the NY Times is trying to say that Wisconsin has better graduation rates than Texas and he did bring up the union v. non-union issue. Wisconsin is predominately white, Texas is not. That does make a difference whether you want to admit it or not. Would it be considered a legitimate comparison if D published an article comparing the graduation rates of Highland Park ISD with Milwaukee SD?