Standards and Accountability: Nebraska has chosen to go its own way when it comes to standards-based education, largely eschewing a strong state role in favor of local control.
The state has adopted standards in each core subject and has clear and specific standards in elementary, middle, and high schools for mathematics and science. But the state does not have exams based on state content standards in science, math, or social studies/history. It gets credit only for having a state writing test.
Instead, this strong local-control state has left it up to local school systems to devise their own standards-based exams. That policy significantly affects the state’s grade.
The state publishes test data on its school report cards and uses the data as part of its school rating system.
Schools that are rated low-performing receive help. But the state does not impose sanctions on both Title I and non-Title I schools that are consistently rated as low-performing, and it does not provide rewards for high-performing or improving schools.
Efforts to Improve Teacher Quality: Nebraska’s requirements for prospective teachers seek to ensure both subject-area competence and practical experience. The state requires its high school teachers to have majors in the subjects they plan to teach.
In addition, all middle school teachers must be endorsed by the state in two subject areas, each of which requires the completion of a minor.
Approved teacher-preparation programs in the state also must provide a respectable 14 weeks of full-time student teaching, as well as 100 hours of structured clinical experience before student teaching can begin.
But Nebraska requires very little teacher testing, and that shortcoming lowers its grade. Future teachers need to pass only a basic-skills test for certification.
The state provides money for professional development, but funding for mentoring programs has been cut until the state’s lottery again supports education activities. Resumption of such support is currently scheduled for the summer of 2007.
Nebraska’s accountability efforts on teacher quality are a brighter spot.
Its school report cards include the percentage of teachers who are endorsed in their subject areas. The state’s system for identifying low-performing teacher education programs is based on its program-approval and -review process, and institutional reports are published online.
School Climate: Nebraska does not provide aid to local districts to help pay for school construction and renovation. Nor does Nebraska have a mechanism to assess the condition of school facilities.
It is one of 10 states without charter school laws, although Nebraska does have a statewide open-enrollment policy.
The state’s grade for school climate gets some help from federal 2000 Schools and Staffing Survey data, which show that the average elementary-class size in the state is the nation’s lowest, at 17.5 pupils.
Nebraska also does well on indicators of student engagement, school safety, and parent involvement from the National Assessment of Educational Progress background survey.
For example, 81 percent of 8th graders attend schools where officials report that classroom misbehavior is not a problem or is only a minor problem. Ninety-five percent of 8th graders attend schools where administrators also say that physical conflicts between students are not a problem or are a minor problem.
Equity: Nebraska is one of only 10 states with negative wealth-neutrality scores, meaning that, on average, property-poor districts actually have more state and local revenue for education than wealthy districts do. The state still has a coefficient of variation indicating wide disparities in funding across the state.
The state ranks 27th on the McLoone Index, which compares the total amount spent on students in districts below the median with the amount that would be needed to ensure all districts spent at least the median amount.
Spending: In the 2001-02 school year, Nebraska spent $8,741 per pupil for education, which was more than in 39 other states.
Other than per-pupil education spending, Nebraska ranks about average on spending indicators. The state ranks 27th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia on the spending index, a measure that takes into account how many students receive funding at or above the national average, and how far the rest fall below that bar.
Nebraska ranks 24th among the states for total taxable resources spent on education, at 4 percent. The national average is 3.8 percent.