by Dr. Terry Stoops
Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
Against my better judgment, I read Thomas Mills’ column, “Want to know where NC is heading? Look at SC, circa 1995” on the NC SPIN website. Mills operates a website, PoliticsNC, that aims “to provide a reasoned voice in the political debate at a time when throwing rocks and calling names is far more popular.”
In his column, Mills notes,
In public education, South Carolina surpassed North Carolina in per pupil spending and has higher average teacher salaries.
Interested in the source of his data for per pupil expenditures, I clicked on the link and was redirected to a Governing website that warned,
Please note that the reported totals cannot be reliably compared among states. Figures reported do not account for discrepancies in cost of living, which are typically calculated for specific metropolitan areas. In addition, accounting methods vary among state agencies.
No such warning appears in his piece (for obvious reasons).
I went a step further and clicked on the link to examine teacher salary data.
While I commend Mr. Mills for choosing National Center for Education Statistics as his source, the teacher salary data that he references is more than two years old. (In fact, NCES researchers clearly indicate that the “table was prepared April 2013.”) That matters because the N.C. General Assembly raised teacher salaries significantly last year. Even if they hadn’t, average teacher salary figures suffer from the same shortcomings identified by Governing researchers above.
Reliable apples-to-apples comparisons of state education data are difficult to find. Mills would have been better off noting those shortcomings in his piece, rather than pretending they do not exist.