Tells Me How Much I Pay—and What I Get

By 08/05/2011

6 Comments | Print | NO PDF | is a very useful website. I just looked up on the site some information on the one and only middle school in my hometown of Wellesley, Massachusetts, the home of the women’s college Hillary Clinton went to.  Eighty-two percent of Wellesley middle school students are white and another 7 percent are Asian.  Only 3 percent of the students are eligible for any version of the free lunch program.

I discovered that Wellesley spends no less than $15,383 per pupil, more than $2,000 more than the national average.

It has much too big a middle school, as it enrolls more than 1,000 students in grades 6 through 8.  That means there is something close to 325 wild-eyed youngsters in each and every grade. Whew!

But the middle school has the equivalent of 1 full time teacher for every 12 students– pretty good even by Harvard standards.

Over 90 percent of the 8th graders were deemed proficient in reading by the State of Massachusetts, but only 77 percent were said to be proficient in math, and just 44 percent in science.

What is this rich school doing with all of its money? Can’t it teach its affluent students math? Can only half of them learn science?

Now that I know how much is being spent, I realize little more is to be gained from spending more—though it is rumored that the town is about to ask me and the other homeowners to pony up money to build a new—and, of course, bigger—middle school to go along with the $125- million-and-counting high school now being constructed.

I am not the only person to get annoyed when I find out how much is being spent on schooling. As I discuss in an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal, the 5th annual PEPG/Education Next poll shows public support for more spending drops precipitously when people learn how much schools are currently spending.  They, like me, don’t think they are getting their money’s worth.

So, three cheers for  The site tells me a lot more about the schools in my town than does the official Wellesley website.  From a quick perusal of that site, I learned that you can’t bring dead skunks to school, but I was unable to find any information on either per pupil expenditures or student test performance.

Check out your school on The site may be a bit clunky, but it is one of the few places you can pretty easily find how much you are paying for—and what you are getting from—your local school.

-Paul E. Peterson

Comment on this article
  • Jill Gladstone says:

    The author of this article asks, “Can’t it teach its affluent students math?” Perhaps it’s because the school district uses
    TERC: Investigations in Number, Data, and Space for their elementary math program. This math program, along with other “reform” math programs such as Everyday Math, has been failing to teach math well to children for years. See and .

  • Julie Ritchie says:

    Hi Paul – Thanks for your post. Glad to know that we are providing useful information for parents and creating more awareness about the challenges in our communities.

  • Anne Clark says:

    Your quoted test results are contradicted by the information I easily found by googling “Massachusetts MCAS”:

    8th grade : 3% Needs Improvement in ELA, 17% in Math, 46% in Science and Technology.

    Not acceptable by any means – but why slam the district because you didn’t see the “State of the Schools” report on the drop down menu.

    Also – a quick look at the drop down tab “Budgets” (I guess you missed that too) – and I found a total budget of $57,421,870 and total enrollment of 4818. This gives a per pupil of about $12,000.

    I see nothing on that compares to the details available on the district website.

    Did you think no one would look?

  • Anne Clark says:

    Oh – I see – you only looked at the Middle School website – not the district website – then wrote this column. What can I say?

  • rzg says:

    Listing MCAS scores as “what you get” for your money is sort of like saying you went to a restaurant and all you got was the receipt of purchase. It says very little about your meal, the flavors, ambiance, the wine pairings, etc. MCAS is a very blunt tool for measurement and since what they consider to be proficient changes wildly from year to year, I suggest you keep reading or even go outside and talk to some students.

    Sad that you didn’t see all the information on the district website, I wonder if the kids can do a better job collecting information.

  • Kerry @ City Kids Homeschooling says:

    Interesting post. I’ve always liked’s activities and it’s good to know they have other helpful resources as well.


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