Today, Education Week (EdWeek) released its annual special report Quality Counts 2014, which included its annual State of the States report card. Massachusetts earned top honors in the Student Achievement category by earning a B while the nation as a whole earned a C-minus, up from a D-plus in 2008—the first year EdWeek graded states on measures of student achievement. The U.S. earned higher grades in the other two categories– School Finance and EdWeek’s Change for Success Index– where the nation as a whole earned a C and C-plus respectively.
EdWeek’s annual report card shows once again that states vary considerably not only in achievement but how they fund their schools and the opportunity children born in their state are likely to succeed later on in life. States such as Massachusetts and Maryland not only received high marks from EdWeek but have also been compared favorably to high performing countries in previous studies while those states receiving the lowest grades from EdWeek typically scored below most industrialized countries as well. In these lower performing states, the typical student will less likely to be able to compete in the global labor market upon graduating high school.
How states can boost student achievement in this post-recession era of fewer funds and more rigorous requirements is certainly not clear. EdWeek attempted to provide more clarity to this question by surveying school district administrators across the country about how to best improve our public schools. Respondents were generally supportive of charter schools, virtual learning, and homeschooling but didn’t see these alternatives as having a major impact. These district officials also didn’t feel state and federal policymakers had much influence on school policies. In their opinion, it was school district officials and local school board members who have the most impact on school policies, not state and federal officials who seem to drive more of today’s reforms. So for states to increase their grades and become more competitive internationally, real reforms need to come from the local level and for states and federal officials to support those efforts.
Here are some of the key findings from this year’s report card:
K-12 Achievement Index
How do states compare on the academic achievement of their students in elementary through high school?
- Public schools improved slightly since 2012- the last time the index was reported—but still earned a C-minus just as in 2012.
- The grade is based on the academic status and growth over time in math and reading scores, narrowing of poverty-based achievement gaps, as well as high school graduation rates and the performance on the advanced placement test.
- Massachusetts was once again top of its class in 2014 just has it has since 2008 by earning a B. Maryland and New Jersey scored slightly lower, but still earned a B and B-minus respectively.
- Just two states–Mississippi, and the District of Columbia– received failing marks in 2014 compared to four states in 2012.
- Thirty-two states earned grades between a D and C-minus.
Chance for Success Index
What are the odds that the average child who grows up in a particular state will do as well as the average child in the top-ranked state, at each stage of his or her educational life? (these stages are: the early childhood years, participation and performance in formal education, and educational attainment and workforce outcomes during adulthood)
- Massachusetts ranked first for the sixth consecutive year by being the only state to receive an A-minus, while Connecticut, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and North Dakota earned a B-plus.
- This means that children in Massachusetts have the best chance of achieving positive life outcomes, according to EdWeek.
- On the other hand, children in Nevada, New Mexico, and Mississippi have the least chance of achieving positive life outcomes by earning a D and D-pluses, respectively.
- The nation as a whole earned a C-plus just as in 2013.
How much do states spend on their schools? Is the spending distributed equitably?
- Overall, the nation earned a C in School Finance similar to last year.
- Wyoming’s grade dropped from an A to an A-minus but still received the highest grade of any state just as in 2013. However, West Virginia, New York, and Connecticut were close behind, all earning a B-plus.
- On the other hand, four states — Mississippi, Nevada, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Utah — received a D while Idaho received a D-minus. No state received a failing grade.
- Out of the 12 states that improved their school finance scores North Dakota, North Carolina and New Hampshire made the greatest improvements by boosting their grades a half a letter.
- However, 35 states actually saw declines in their school finance score.
- States vary greatly in how much they spend on education even when taking regional cost differences into account.
- Wyoming spent the most per pupil with $19,534 and Utah spent the least with $6,905—a $12,629 difference in per pupil spending.
- There are also major differences in per pupil spending within states as well.
- On average states spend $4,566 more per pupil in districts at the 95th percentile in school spending than in districts at the 5th percentile.
- Alaska has the greatest difference at $13,023, while Utah had the smallest difference at $1,997 per pupil.
- Only seven states-Alaska, Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming spent more in low-income districts than in the states’ wealthier districts.
School District Administrator Survey
- Nearly 9 of 10 respondents believed that accountability pressures have been a major driver of change in their districts.
- A slightly higher percentage of respondents believed economic and fiscal challenges were major drivers of change.
- About half believed private schools, virtual schools and homeschooling had some influence on their districts.
- A smaller percentage indicating that charter schools had some influence (probably because charters are present in far fewer districts nationwide).
- Keep in mind, just 1 in 10 respondents thought these other options had a significant influence on their district.
- Fifty-four percent of respondents believed that there needs to be a change in the current governance structure to meet today’s challenges.
- The most common change happening in districts surveyed were:
- Changing superintendents (66 percent).
- Expanding school choice (48 percent).
- Central office reorganization (30 percent).
- Mayoral takeover had happened in 3 percent of surveyed districts.
- The most common change happening in districts surveyed were:
- Most respondents supported non-traditional options such as virtual learning (74 percent), charter schools (59 percent), and homeschooling (58 percent).
- Few supported vouchers (14 percent).