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February 19, 2016

When report cards collide

One surefire way for education policy groups to get press is to release a state report card. Any kind of ranking is clickbait for news outlets. Plus, with a state-of-education report card you get a bonus man-bites-dog story when the grade-giving institution is the one being graded. Consequently, organizations representing business interests from teachers’ unions to think tanks have gotten into the act at one time or another. But readers should beware. When it comes to ranking states on education, a rose is not a rose is not a rose.

Three state report cards released over the winter show how widely the grades vary, even though they are all ostensibly evaluating the same thing – public education. The American Legislative Exchange Council published its Report Card on American Education in November. Just last week, the Network for Public Education released a 50 State Report Card.  Both ALEC and NPE are advocacy organizations with clear, and contradictory, agendas. January saw the release of Education Week’s annual Quality Counts which, as the education publication of record, represents the Goldilocks in this bunch.

What, if anything, can we learn by looking at these three rankings collectively? On the one hand, there is little agreement among the organizations regarding which states are top performers: no state makes the top 10 in all three lists. Yet on the other hand, there is consensus that no state is perfect and that much more work needs to be done, since no state earned an ‘A.’

Obviously, these reports differ because they value different things. ALEC and NPE grade states on education policies that they like. ALEC, which advertises itself as supportive of “limited government, free markets and federalism,” awards states that promote choice and competition, such as allowing more charter schools, providing private school options with taxpayer support, and having few or no regulations on homeschooling. NPE emphasizes the “public” in public education and opposes privatization and so-called “corporate reforms” such as merit pay, alternative certification for teachers, and especially high-stakes testing. Policies that earned high grades by ALEC, therefore, got low grades from NPE and vice versa.

The two had one area of agreement, however, albeit by omission. The report cards say little (ALEC) or nothing (NPE) about actual performance. The result is that grades on both reports have no relationship to student learning.

To its credit, ALEC features a separate ranking on states’ NAEP scores for low-income students as their way to draw attention to student performance. However, by doing so, the authors also cast a light on how little ALEC’s preferred policies relate to achievement. For every Indiana, which earned ALEC’s top grade and produces high NAEP scores, there is a Hawaii whose low-income kids ranked 6th on NAEP, but earned an ALEC ‘D+.’  NPE isn’t any better. Despite the appearance of high-performing states like Massachusetts and Iowa in the NPE Top 10, they also awarded high-scoring Indiana an ‘F’ and Colorado a ‘D.’

In contrast to ALEC and NPE, Ed Week does not take positions on education policy. Its state report card focused on K-12 achievement, school finance, and something they call “chance for success” — demographic indicators related to student achievement including poverty, parent education and early education enrollments. With policy out of the equation, Ed Week’s grades in each domain track fairly consistently with the overall grade suggesting that the indicators identified by the authors tell us at least something about the quality of education.

So which state gets bragging rights? If you want to use one of these report cards as fodder for your own particular brand of advocacy, then by all means go with ALEC or NPE – whichever one fits your views best. But if you really want to know how well different education policies work, you’d be better off consulting the research. You can start here, here and here.

As for ranking states by their education systems? Stick with Goldilocks.

January 16, 2014

Are our schools passing or failing?

report cardStudents around the country are nearing the midpoint of the school year and will be receiving report cards documenting their achievement to date. But students aren’t the only ones receiving report cards this time of year. States and districts have been receiving A through F grades based as well. January has brought a flurry of report cards with Education Week, The Brookings Institute, and StudentsFirst all releasing report cards on our public schools with dramatically different results.

If you live in Massachusetts you’re schools would receive the honor of valedictorian according to Education Week’s report card by earning a B in student achievement. On the other hand, StudentsFirst’s report card indicates that your schools are in need of remediation by earning a D-plus. Conversely, Louisiana would take valedictorian honors according to StudentsFirst’s report card while Education Week’s report card shows Louisiana school barely passing by earning a D-minus.

So if you live in Massachusetts or Louisiana are your schools honors or remedial schools? It depends. Each of these report cards grades states on very different sets of criteria. These criteria are based on the priorities and opinions of the organizations that developed the report cards. Meaning, the report cards are an evaluation of how well states and districts have met the standards that each organization advocates, not an evaluation of the actual effectiveness of their schools, which is like receiving a grade on a test based on how you studied instead of how well you actually performed.

Keep this in mind when other report cards are released. Knowing what is actually being graded can go a long way to more accurately evaluate the quality of the schools in your state or district. For example Education Week grades states based on their student achievement but doesn’t fully account for differences in student demographics. StudentsFirst grades states based solely on policies that organization advocates and doesn’t include measures of student outcomes. The Brookings Institute grades large districts in a similar manner by grading the districts primarily on policies they believe increases school choice and competition but does include a measure of student outcomes.

Of course, these are not the only report cards that grade our public schools but they represent the fact that the grades are based on whether schools are doing what the organization wants our schools to do and not on the actually effectiveness of our schools which a report card should really represent. –Jim Hull

Filed under: Public education — Tags: , , , , — Jim Hull @ 3:46 pm

June 7, 2013

Big improvement in high school graduation rates

High School Graduation Rate Climbs to Highest Point in 40 Years

The annual Diplomas Count report, courtesy of the newspaper Education Week (EdWeek), was released yesterday, showing yet another steady increase in the national graduation rate over the past three years. EdWeek defines graduates as students who earn a standard diploma or better in four years. Along with the national graduation rate, EdWeek also provides graduation rates by state showing the trends from 2000 to 2010 and a breakdown by student subgroups. This year’s edition also highlights several articles concerning targeted dropout prevention and recovery programs throughout the country.

Overall, the report provides promising evidence that high schools across the country are nearing historic graduation levels. These upward trends also pave the way for promising future results, with significant gains to be had by students of racial minority backgrounds.

Encouraging Findings

  • The national on-time graduation rate reached 74.7 percent for the class of 2010.  This level parallels achievement in 1973, and is a nearly 2 percentage-point increase from the class of 2009.  
    • This is the third year of increases following modest declines in 2006 and 2007.
    • Over the past decade, the graduation rate improved by 8 percentage points (66.7 percent in 2000 to 74.7 percent in 2010).
    • Forty-six states have seen increases in their graduation rates over the past decade, with gains ranging from less than a percentage point to almost 32 points.
  • Continued improvements for historically underserved minorities bolster national graduation rate increases from 2009 to 2010.
    • Latinos saw an impressive 5.4 percentage point increase over this period.
    • African-Americans progressed upward by 3.3 percentage points.
  • From 2009 to 2010, the number of states graduating 80 percent or more of high school students rose from 4 to 13.
    • Iowa (83.2), New Jersey (83.1), North Dakota (84), and Wisconsin (83.7) were joined by Connecticut (82.2), Idaho (80), Kansas (80), Maine (80.5), Minnesota (80.4), Missouri (80.7), Pennsylvania (83), Tennessee (80.3), and Vermont (85).
  • Eight states showed increases of at least 5.0 percentage points from 2009-2010.
    • Connecticut (6.2 point increase to 82.2), Delaware (6 point increase to 73.9), Idaho (7.9 point increase to 80), Illinois (6.6 point increase to 77.8 percent), Kentucky (6.7 point increase to 77.2), Maine (8.2 point increase to 80.5), South Dakota (6.8 point increase to 76.3), and Vermont (7.6 point increase to 85).
  • All major ethnic and racial groups have shown overall improvement since 2000.
    • Latinos have produced significant gains of 16.3 percentage points, decreasing the Latino-White graduation gap.
    • African-American graduation rates have improved by 13.2 percentage points, causing a substantial narrowing of the African-American-White gap.
    • Native Americans have increased graduation rates over the decade, but fell by 2 percentage points from 2009 to 2010. This subgroup lags behind other ethnic groups with 51 percent of students graduating in 2010.  
  • An astounding 46 states have demonstrated decade-long growth in graduation rates.
    • Florida, George, Kentucky, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Vermont each boast double-digit increases since 2000.

Findings of Concern

  • Graduation performance varies greatly by state.
    • Less than two-thirds of students earn their diploma in the District of Columbia (57), Georgia (64), Mississippi (64.4), Nevada (62.7), New Mexico (59.4), and South Carolina (61.5).
    • The largest state-level gap exists between the District of Columbia and Vermont, with a 28-percentage point disparity.
  • Male and female students are not graduating at comparable rates.
    • In 2010, 71.9 percent of males graduated compared to 78.4 percent of females.
    • This 6.5 percentage-point gap is a slight improvement on the 6.8 percent variance in 2009 (with 69.6 percent of males and 76.4 percent of females graduating).
  • Minority students are less likely to graduate than their White and Asian peers.
    • There is a 30-percentage-point gap dividing Asian (81.1 percent) and Native American (51.1 percent) students, the groups with the highest and lowest graduation rates, respectively. 
    • Significant graduation gaps exist across racial lines. The gap between Latinos (68.1 percent) and Whites (79.6 percent) is 11.5 percentage-points, while the gap between Black (61.7 percent) and White students is 17.9 percentage points.
  • Three states showed decreases of at least 5.0 percentage points from 2009-2010.
    • Arizona (5.1 point decrease to 67.2), New York (5.1 point decrease to 73.3), and Utah (7.1 point decrease to 71.3) each exhibited significant drop-offs in graduation rates.

For more information on how Education Week and others calculate graduation rates, check out the Center for Public Education’s Straight Story on High School Graduation Rates. Furthermore, check out the Center’s Better Late than Never to learn more about those students who took more than four years to graduate.

This summary was prepared by Christine Duchouquette, Policy Research Intern, and Jim Hull, Senior Policy Analyst for NSBA’s Center for Public Education.

February 26, 2013

The changing face of America and its schools

Our report on how demographic shifts are changing the cultural landscape of the United States and it’s education system, remains one of our most popular. So, I think you’ll enjoy this recent graphic representation of 2010 U.S. Census data courtesy of Education Week.

Filed under: CPE,Data — Tags: , , , — NDillon @ 3:21 pm

November 29, 2012

New grad rates looking up

Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Education released high school graduation rates by state for the year 2010-11, and the overall picture is best described as not as bad as we thought.

The release marks the first year that states are reporting uniformly computed graduation rates based on a four-year cohort of students. There are two big advantages to the new calculation. First, because all states are using the same formula we can reliably compare rates across states. Second and most important, the new calculation comes as close as possible to tracking individual students, including those who transfer in and out of the system, and is therefore a much more accurate picture of high school completions. (CPE describes the problems with previously used grad rate formulas here.)

The Department cautions that these numbers are preliminary. Even so, there’s enough here to offer some encouragement to public schools that they are moving in the right direction.

Prior to the universal adoption of the four-year cohort rate, statisticians had to rely on estimates to come up with comparable grad rates. We feature one of these estimated data sets  — EdWeek’s Diploma Counts — in our Data Center.

I compared the Department’s numbers with EdWeek’s. Please note that the Department numbers are for the class of 2010-11 while EdWeek’s most current data are for 2008-09. There has been a modest but steady upward trend in high school graduation over the last decade, and so we could reasonably expect a 1-2 point difference due to actual gains. However, the newly reported and more accurate rates from the Department are for the most part significantly higher than the EdWeek estimates. For some states the difference is as much as 10 points or more.  Consider:

Also keep in mind that these rates are for on-time graduation. CPE’s Jim Hull estimates that including students who take five or six years to earn a standard diploma would increase the grad rate by about 5 points.  Yet another advantage to the cohort rate is that states will have the data to better track students who haven’t graduated on time but are still on track toward a diploma.

The preliminary data may contain some noise, especially concerning special needs and ELL students, whose rates range widely by state from high 20s to low 80s. These numbers will need to be sorted out. In addition, no state exceeds 90 percent and the rates for African American, Latino and Native American students still lag, showing that we still have a lot of work to do. But there is cause for optimism that schools’ efforts are starting to show results. Find your state’s cohort rates here.

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