WASHINGTON -- The Education Department has made public a back-to-school report that Education Secretary Lamar Alexander says would give a "heightened sense of urgency" to passage of President Bush's proposed education legislation.
The report predicted record spending on education at all levels and an increased enrollment of children in preschool programs. But government officials said increased expenditures for each pupil had not translated into better educated students.
"Enrollment is up, spending is up, achievement is down," said Diane Ravitch, assistant secretary for the Office of Educational Research and Improvement.
Alexander unveiled the annual report yesterday.
The report showed that the number of 3- and 4-year-old children enrolled in preschool programs rose to 3.3 million in the 1990-91 school year from 2.3 million in 1980-81, a 44 percent increase.
Total education spending in the United States is expected to reach $414 billion in the 1990-91 school year, up 5.5 percent from the previous year and a record high. But when adjusted for inflation, the spending on education rose only slightly, to $395.7 billion in 1991 dollars. In the 1989-90 school year education spending was $385.1 billion after adjustment for inflation.
The report said elementary and high schools were expected to spend $249 billion in the 1991-92 school year, up 5 percent from $237 billion in 1990-91. Colleges and universities will spend about $165 billion in 1991-92, up from $155.4 billion last year.
But Ravitch, a former professor at Columbia University's Teacher's College, said increased spending and educational staff at the elementary and secondary level had not halted declines in student achievement noted in a survey by the National Assessment of Educational Progress released last year.
Ravitch also said studies showed that reading skills were improved when children read and were read to by their parents, but that such improvements were not finding their way into the classroom.
"The things we know that are contributing to achievement aren't happening," she said.
Alexander said that while many people recognized the crisis in American education, few realized that the crisis extended to the schools their children attended.