Does Lack of Investment Explain Failing Schools?

3 min readMar 31
Photo by Just Daisy on Unsplash

In a recent interview, black theoretical physicist Sylvester James Gates was asked why black students don’t do as well on standardized tests. Gates stated that test scores measure the intrinsic capacity for students to excel, but test scores also measure the investment a society has made in those students.

Then Gates told the story of when he realized the differences in investment.

Gates attended a segregated high school in Florida in the 1960s. When his black chess club competed against neighboring white schools, Gates realized the white schools had better facilities and the latest equipment to assist student achievement. Gates saw that his state invested more in developing white students than black students.

It’s understandable why that tale of segregation stuck with Gates, but in the 21st century, is Gates’ answer still valid?

In recent years, only a handful of black students were able to pass entrance exams to New York City’s elite specialized schools, but New York has the highest per-pupil spending of all 50 states. On the flip side, a WalletHub study ranked Utah schools as 13th in the nation, with high marks for educational quality, campus safety, and SAT scores, but Utah is last in the nation as far as per-pupil spending.

That shows the problem isn’t necessarily money; it’s how the money is used.

In 2022, Jovoni and Shawana Patterson filed a lawsuit against the Baltimore City School Board of Commissioners, the Baltimore City Council, and Mayor Brandon Scott. The plaintiffs accused Baltimore City Public Schools of spending billions of dollars in taxpayer money while failing to properly educate Baltimore City’s children. The lawsuit stated that in 2020–21 Baltimore City Public Schools spent 25.2 percent above the national average, while its students are performing worse than most school districts in the nation.

That school year can be excused as an anomaly due to the global coronavirus pandemic.

However, the lawsuit points out that the school system was failing its students before the pandemic. The results of 2019’s statewide test revealed that only 19.7 percent of Baltimore City Public School students in grades 3 through 10 were proficient in English and only…


J. Pharoah Doss is a columnist for the New Pittsburgh Courier.