Holding States, Nation to Educational Account
Quality Counts 2010 is the 14th edition of Education Week’s annual report card on American public education as viewed through the lens of the states’ education policies and outcomes. As in the past, this year’s edition is built on twin foundations: the detailed data collection and analysis of the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, which mines its annual policy survey to provide comprehensive, state-by-state grading in key areas of state policy and performance; and the rigorous investigation of a timely issue in education policy by the Education Week reporting staff.
This year’s special theme—the latest iteration of the national debate over common academic standards—is complemented by extensive information on each state’s curriculum resources, assessments, and academic standards, drawn from the research center’s annual state survey.
National wrangling over the advisability of common standards—and the form such standards would take—stretches back at least to the watershed A Nation at Risk report in 1983. With 48 states now having committed to the idea, at least, of such standards as part of the still-evolving Common Core State Standards Initiative, the hard political, educational, and practical choices once seen as merely theoretical are taking on an ever-more-solid cast.
Against the backdrop of this latest initiative, Quality Counts 2010 offers a broad perspective on the common-standards debate, its antecedents, and the challenges the current effort poses for public policymakers. Education Week reporters examine the most cogent arguments for and against common standards; the practical challenges administrators, teachers, and academic specialists would face in making them a classroom reality; the political hurdles any proposed standards would face from wary state and local officials; the emergence of college readiness as a prominent element in the standards discussion; and a school-level look at the implementation of rigorous standards in one high-achieving state.
In keeping with the modular approach to data collection rolled out in last year’s report, Quality Counts 2010 assigns state grades in four of the report’s six indicator categories updated for this edition: the teaching profession; standards, assessments, and accountability; school finance; and the Chance-for-Success Index, which was created by the EPE Research Center to assess the role of education at key stages of a person’s life, from early childhood to adulthood.
|State of the States Data|
It should be noted that most of the indicators on which this year’s school finance and Chance-for-Success grades were based lag behind the current state of the economy, both nationally and regionally; such recent economic developments at the state and national levels are likely to be reflected in future Quality Counts reports. Also, under the biennial data-collection format, updated information and grades on transitions and alignment policies—how the states help to move students through the educational pipeline from early-childhood education, to college readiness, and into the workforce—will be included in Quality Counts 2011.
In print, states are graded separately on each of the four updated sections appearing in the State of the States segment of the report. Online, we also present states’ summative scores calculated across all six areas tracked by Quality Counts, incorporating the most recent information available. The nation earns a C overall, across all six graded areas.
In past years, Quality Counts has included a comprehensive K-12 Achievement Index, which focuses explicitly on student learning in elementary through high school and grades states based on 18 indicators, including achievement gaps between high- and low-poverty students, and mathematics and reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP. The NAEP reading data from 2009 are expected to be released in the spring, too late for inclusion in the report.
In place of the K-12 Achievement Index, Quality Counts 2010 includes an original, special analysis by the EPE Research Center intended to delve deeply into one core academic area—mathematics—in keeping with the reinvigorated national interest in common standards and assessments. Not a part of Quality Counts grading, this Math Progress Index comprises a dozen indicators drawn from NAEP and from data on Advanced Placement testing from the College Board. The index provides state-by-state performance and opportunity scores in this crucial subject area, as well as an in-depth perspective on state-to-state differences.
A signature element of Quality Counts since it debuted in 2007, the Chance-for-Success Index draws on 13 indicators that, together, provide broad perspective on the impact of education in three major phases of life: early childhood, the period encompassing formal K-12 education, and adulthood and career.
The nation as a whole earns a C-plus on the Chance-for-Success Index, mirroring its performance in the past two Quality Counts reports. Though the states differs widely in their individual performance, the extent to which states were able to make good on the promise of elementary and secondary education was the factor most closely linked to the opportunities of their residents.
The Teaching Profession
Reintroduced in Quality Counts 2008, the revised Teaching Profession framework draws on 44 indicators to assess key aspects of state teacher policy, including how to account for teacher quality, provide incentives for teachers, and recruit and retain a strong teaching workforce. Overall, the nation receives a C in this area, with South Carolina earning the only A, and Alaska and Oregon ranking last, each with an F.
Teacher compensation remains subpar nationally when weighed against workers in comparable occupations, according to an EPE Research Center analysis. When benchmarked against the wages of similar workers in the same state, teachers earn 89 cents for every dollar earned by comparable employees, the analysis found. Few states are aggressively pursuing alternative strategies for compensating effective teachers.
Standards, Assessments, and Accountability
This category—long a core feature of Quality Counts—represents an area of peak performance for the nation as a whole, which receives a B. It also is the area in which states post the highest grades, with 11 states receiving an A, and West Virginia, the top-ranked state, earning a nearly perfect score. By contrast, Montana and Nebraska rank last nationally, with a D-plus and a D-minus, respectively.
In the area of curriculum, this year’s survey finds that states, in general, are working to provide resources that can complement their content standards in core academic areas, and to help special student populations, including English-language learners and special education students. While assessments remain dominated by multiple-choice questions—every state and the District of Columbia use such a format at every school level—short answers are used at all levels in 29 states, and extended-response items are a standard element of English/language arts tests in 45 states.
When evaluated on eight commonly used measures of equity and spending, the nation earns an overall school finance grade of C in Quality Counts 2010, marking a slight decline from last year. Half the states score in the C-plus to C-minus range; Wyoming rises to the top, with an A-minus, and New Jersey and Rhode Island follow, each with a B-plus. Idaho, Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee, and Utah each receives a D. But our analysis finds that no state ranks at either the top or at the bottom on both equity and spending, the two aspects of school finance examined.
Vol. 29, Issue 17, Page 4