As an election year begins, the nation also approaches the third anniversary of the federal stimulus program and the aggressive wave of education reforms it spawned. Such topics as American schooling’s international standing, the lessons to be learned from high-performing countries around the globe, and the implications for economic competitiveness in an interconnected world all remain high on the policy agenda, from the White House and Congress down to local school boards and chambers of commerce.
Against this backdrop, the nation and many states face continuing challenges in delivering a high-quality education to all students, according to Quality Counts, the annual report card published by Education Week. The nation receives a C when graded across the six distinct areas of policy and performance tracked by the report, the most comprehensive ongoing assessment of the state of American education. For the fourth year in a row, Maryland earns honors as the top-ranked state, posting the nation’s highest overall grade, a B-plus. Perennial strong finishers Massachusetts, New York, and Virginia follow close behind, each receiving a B. Nearly half the states, however, receive grades of C or lower.
“Dating back at least to the Sputnik era and the Space Race, we’ve been warned that America’s schools do not measure up favorably on an international yardstick,” said Christopher B. Swanson, Vice President of Editorial Projects in Education, the nonprofit organization that publishes Education Week. “Despite some bright spots over the years, Americans remain rightly concerned that the nation’s pace of improvement is simply too slow, at a time when our global peers and competitors may be rocketing ahead.”
A well-educated citizenry is widely viewed as the basis for economic stability and competitiveness, both internationally and domestically. Yet, new findings from the report’s annual Chance-for-Success Index—which captures the role of education in a person’s life, from cradle to career—show the country struggling to provide opportunities to succeed and many states lagging far behind the national leaders. The U.S. as a whole receives a C-plus on the index. For the fifth year running, Massachusetts earns the only A and remains at the top of the national rankings, followed closely by New Hampshire and New Jersey, each posting grades of A-minus. Mississippi, New Mexico, and Nevada receive the lowest scores, with grades of D-plus or lower. Scores on the Chance-for-Success Index have dropped from pre-recession levels, due in part to declines in conditions that support early schooling success, including family income and parental employment.
Focusing more specifically on academic performance, the report’s K-12 Achievement Index evaluates the overall strength of a state’s public schools against 18 individual indicators that capture: current achievement, improvements over time, and poverty-based disparities or gaps. Massachusetts emerges as the top-achieving state this year, with New Jersey and Maryland finishing second and third, respectively. These states—each earning a B in this year’s report—have been the nation’s top three scorers since the index was first graded in 2008. A wide gulf separates the leaders from the rest of the pack, with the average state earning a C-minus on K-12 Achievement, a slight improvement over last year. Three states—Louisiana, Mississippi, and West Virginia—and the District of Columbia receive grades of F on the index.
States post their highest scores for policies related to standards, assessments, and school accountability, one of Quality Counts’ longest-standing categories. The nation earns a B in this year’s report, with 12 states—led by Indiana—receiving an A and nine with an A-minus. Since results were last reported in 2010, scores have improved in 20 states, with the largest gains found in Illinois and Kentucky. Progress in these areas reflects the cumulative legacies of standards-based reform and accountability initiatives dating back to the 1990s, the decade-old No Child Left Behind Act, and, more recently, an array of stimulus-era programs and the common-standards movement.
Quality Counts 2012 features new results for its Teaching Profession category, which spans 44 individual state indicators. The U.S. earns a C in this area, although scores for the nation as a whole and the majority of states have dropped in the past two years. Arkansas and South Carolina each earn a B-plus, the highest grade awarded this year; four states and the District of Columbia earn a D-minus. Findings from a survey conducted by the EPE Research Center show that some declines can be attributed to the economic impacts of the recession and states’ inability to maintain funding for certain teacher-related policies and programs. More positive results emerge for the center’s Pay-Parity Index, which shows that the national pay-gap between teachers and other comparable workers has narrowed in the past several years. Public-school teachers earn about 94 cents for every dollar earned in similar occupations nationwide.
The report also includes an annually updated analysis of school expenditure patterns and the distribution of those funds within states. The national grade in school finance holds steady at a C for 2012, with seven states earning the top grade of B-plus. Since the onset of the recession in 2007, scores have dropped for the two aspects of school finance tracked by Quality Counts—spending and equity.
Quality Counts 2012: The Global Challenge—Education in a Competitive World takes a critical look at the nation’s place among the world’s public education systems, with an eye toward providing policymakers with perspective on the extent to which high-profile international assessments can provide valid comparisons and lessons. It examines effective reform strategies here and abroad that have gained traction and may be replicable. And, the report highlights the political and social challenges policymakers will face in improving American education to meet the demands of a 21st century work force.
The report also features commentaries penned by educational leaders from around the globe—Byong-man Ahn of South Korea, England’s Sir Michael Barber, Pasi Salhberg sharing Finland’s lessons, and Margaret Spellings from the United States.
The full Quality Counts 2012 report and interactive state report cards: www.edweek.org/go/qc12.
State Highlights Reports for the 50 states and the District of Columbia featuring detailed, state-specific data and our comprehensive grading of the states across six categories of educational performance and policy: www.edweek.org/go/qc12shr.
The public release event for Quality Counts 2012 will be streamed live in a simulcast from Washington, D.C. The Webcast is available at www.edweek.org/go/qc12Livestream.