Maryland Ranks First for Fourth Straight Year
Special Theme Explores American Education from a Global Perspective Grades and Highlights Reports Issued for All 50 States and D.C.
The nation and many states face continuing challenges in delivering a high-quality education to all students, according to Quality Counts 2012, the 16th edition of Education Week's annual examination of issues and challenges facing America's public schools.
In addition to the in-depth package of articles on this year's theme, Quality Counts 2012 offers fresh data and analysis from the EPE Research Center on key education policy indicators, including scores and letter grades for individual states and for the nation overall in five of six areas tracked by the annual report.
This year's updated categories include the Chance-for-Success Index, introduced in Quality Counts 2007 to offer a handle on the role that education plays in enhancing positive outcomes at various stages over the course of a person's life; the K-12 Achievement Index, which offers a yardstick on student performance by state on 18 crucial indicators; and school finance, graded on eight factors, including how education resources are spread within a state, as well as overall spending patterns. Also updated are categories tracking policies that involve the teaching profession, and those that focus on standards, assessments, and accountability.
The sixth category captured in the report's annual "State of the States" roundup involves policies relating to transitions and alignment among different sections of the educational continuum, from early childhood to postsecondary education and the world of work. It was updated in Quality Counts 2011.
Together, these six categories form the basis of the summative letter grades given to the nation overall and to the individual states.
Maryland, for the fourth consecutive year, ranks at the top of the national list with a grade of B-plus. Tightly clustered behind it with a B are Massachusetts, New York, and Virginia, all of which consistently performed strongly in past Quality Counts reports.
Ranked at the bottom was South Dakota, which receives a grade of D-plus, while 11 states rank in the lowest tier, with grades of C-minus. The nation overall receives a grade of C, the same as last year; overall, 41 states receive grades ranging from C-minus to C-plus.
Although the nation as a whole posted no overall increase on the summative grade reflecting all six categories tracked annually in the report, notable changes took place in some specific areas.
Chief among these is the category of standards, assessments, and accountability, a long-standing feature of Quality Counts. Since 2010, when this category was last updated, 20 states have posted improvements, with 12 states—led by Indiana—earning an A, and nine an A-minus. Illinois increased its score by nearly 18 points, and Kentucky by 15. Academic-content standards were the strongest single indicator; 19 states earned a perfect score in this subcategory.
In the realm of K-12 student achievement, Quality Counts evaluates 18 separate criteria looking at how states are performing now, how they have improved over time, and poverty-based achievement gaps. The nation overall posted a 1 point increase over last year. Thirty states' scores improved between 2011 and 2012, and five notched improvements of 4 points or more. Massachusetts and New Jersey were the only two states to earn a B-minus or better across all three categories included in the K-12 Achievement Index.
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.
A well-educated workforce and 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.
Effects of the economic downturn linger in American education, a year and a half after the official end of the recession.
The educational impacts of the recession can be seen in a variety of areas, among them: states’ decisions to scale-back school programs due to tight budgets and troubling trends in factors linked to academic preparation and success, including increased child poverty and parental unemployment.
States are financing fewer programs for educators in 2012 than they did in 2010. Reductions in efforts to develop and allocate teaching talent were made in 23 states. Officials often cited budget cuts prompted by the recession as a reason for eliminating programs.
Fewer states reported using non-multiple-choice questions on their assessments in 2012 than in recent years. For example, the number of states including essay questions or other extended-response items in English assessments dropped from 45 in 2010 to 38 in 2012.
Since the recession, teacher pay has risen, relative to the earnings of workers from comparable occupations. However, uncertainty about the post-stimulus outlook remains.
The EPE Research Center’s Pay-Parity Index measures the earning power of public school teachers compared with the wages of counselors, nurses, physical therapists, and other comparable occupations in the same state.
Quality Counts finds that teachers earned 94 cents for every dollar earned by a comparable worker in 2010, the most recent year for which data are available. The median salary for public school teachers was $49,974 compared with $52,972 for comparable workers
Median teacher salaries were at least on par with comparable workers in 13 states, four more than in 2010.
Since the recession, median teacher salaries have risen modestly, while earnings for workers in similar occupations have declined.
SPECIAL FOCUS ON INTERNATIONAL EDUCATION
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.
In keeping with this year's theme, the EPE Research Center used its annual survey of state education agency officials to ask if they are drawing on international comparisons in crafting specific measures for improving education. Of those responding, agencies in 29 states affirmed using such information, while 21 states and the District of Columbia said they are not currently using international data as a resource in guiding public policy.
The ways in which international comparisons are put to use vary widely among the 29 states drawing on them as a policy tool, the EPE Research Center's policy survey found. A majority of those responding in the affirmative, 18 overall, use them to compare student achievement, and 12 states are looking to other nations in coming up with academic-content standards. A handful look abroad for ideas in setting performance standards for state assessments.
States that cited international comparisons as a factor in informing their academic-content standards most often looked to them in the areas of mathematics and science, rather than in social studies or English/language arts. Seven jurisdictions turned up on the list of those most mentioned in the area of math and science: Canada, England, Finland, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, and Singapore. Cited most often in this area was Singapore, with 18 states naming it as a model for current standards in math or science. Officials responding to the survey often indicated the need to ensure that their states were preparing to keep up with the demands of a competitive world economy, and cited the importance of looking at "best practices" from high-achieving nations.
Most states look beyond the U.S. borders to inform their own educational reforms, policies, and programs.
Education officials in 29 states reported that their agency uses international education comparisons to inform their reform strategies or identify “best practices.”
States using international comparisons often cited a need to align student preparation with the demands of a global economy and learn from the experiences of high-achieving nations.
In describing the ways they used such insight from abroad, states most frequently noted the role of international indicators in comparing student achievement (18 states) and developing academic-content standards (12 states).
Other uses of international comparisons included: improving assessment and accountability systems (9 states), finding ways to support teachers (8), and setting performance standards for state assessments (5).
Math and Science in the U.S. are the subject areas most strongly influenced by international standards and examples.
When developing or revising their own academic standards, states are most likely to seek international guidance in mathematics and science, two subjects often linked to economic competitiveness and technological innovation.
In math, 23 states looked to other nations to inform their standards; 13 states did so for science.
Fewer states used international standards as models for English/language arts and social studies—10 states and 2 states respectively.
For math and science, Singapore was most frequently cited as an exemplar, mentioned by 18 states. Other international systems used as models included: Japan (by 11 states), Finland (10), Canada (8), England (7), Hong Kong (6), and New Zealand (5).