Education Week released the 22nd edition of Quality Counts this week. This year, Quality Counts will be issued in three installments, allowing a more in-depth approach to the data underpinning the report. This first installment presents the annual “report card” that Education Week delivers to grade the nation’s and the states’ education progress.
I doubt that anyone will be surprised to learn that, overall, the nation earned a grade of C this year. When Education Week launched Quality Counts in 1997, states averaged a C grade. While grade criteria have shifted over time, the national average grade has not varied much. Over the last decade there has been almost no movement in the grade Education Week assigns to the nation. In 2008 the national average was 75.9. In 2018 the average is 74.5, up from 74.2 in 2017.
There also continues to be wide range in the performance of the states. While there are a few standouts and several stragglers, the majority of states (31) sit solidly in the middle with grades between C-minus and C-plus. For the fourth year in a row, Massachusetts ranks first among the states, with a B-plus and a score of 86.8, followed by four states that received Bs: New Jersey (85.9), Vermont (84.1), New Hampshire (83.7) and Connecticut (83.0). Maryland earned a B in 2017 with a score of 82.8, but dropped to a B-minus this year with a score of 82.4. WY, PA, NY, MN, RI, and ME also earned an overall grade of B-minus. At the other end of the spectrum, two states earned Ds, Nevada (65.0) and New Mexico (66.2), with another six earning a D-plus – Mississippi (66.8), Idaho (68.1), Louisiana (68.3), Oklahoma (68.4), Arizona (68.7) and Alabama (68.7).
It’s interesting to note that the highest graded states cluster in the Northeast and Middle Atlantic. Most of these states enjoy a good economic environment and have a sizable proportion of parents with good jobs and strong educational backgrounds. They also tend to be among the highest spending states for education. These factors in turn allow them to attract and retaining highly-qualified teachers and invest in curriculum development. Many of these states have instituted policy shifts to provide even the poorest of their population access to high-quality preschool programs. But economies shift. For years Wyoming has been recognized for its complicated funding formula that has redistributed the state’s coal and oil wealth to its poorest school districts. But with the ongoing dramatic reduction in coal and oil revenues, the state is now planning for drastic reductions in school funding.
The lowest graded states cluster in the South and Southwest. Education Week points out that the states that rank near the bottom on the annual report card also shared several common challenges, including relatively high rates of children and parents living in poverty, limited opportunities for early learning, and limited resources. They tend to provide less funding for their K-12 systems. That said, several of the low-ranking states (MS, NV) are ramping up their early education efforts, seeing this as a long-term investment in improved student achievement. And while Louisiana has high poverty rates and somewhat limited resources, the state is making significant progress on student achievement measures.
There’s a lot of useful information in Quality Counts. You may disagree with the way that the state rankings are calculated, but the ranking system has been relatively unchanged over the past ten years, allowing for some long-term comparisons. It’s clear that it takes a lot of effort and a long time to effect measurable change in a system as large and complex as the American K-12 system. Quality Counts is very much a big picture analysis, which tends to blur the details. Every state faces challenges and none has unlimited resources. In many cases the differences between school districts in one state are more dramatic than the differences from state to state.
I do agree that as a nation we seem to be stuck in neutral. It’s not that progress isn’t happening, it’s that it’s not happening fast enough or widely enough to overcome the growing challenges of the current student population. It’s important to remember that the schools aren’t in this alone. Regional economic conditions, income disparities and high poverty rates are not things the schools can control or change. Families need a baseline of economic security for their children to thrive. Resources need to be fairly distributed among schools.
Every state, every district has schools that are beating the odds. Strong school leaders and collaborative teams of dedicated educators are making a difference, but it takes time for that change to bubble up and even longer for it to spread. States that are committed to improving their finance systems and implementing policies that create what Education Week calls “Chances for Success” will see faster and deeper improvements, but there are pockets of change and growth in every district and state. In the end, it’s the individual school that is the unit of change in education reform.
What do you think of this mediocre grade the nation’s education progress received from Quality Counts? Comment below!