The latest unemployment rates, inflation rates, and other economic indicators are staples of TV and radio newscasts.
If Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings has her way, newscasters will be giving annual updates on leading education indicators.
Ms. Spellings has created a composite index of five important data points of student performance: overall achievement; the size of the gap in achievement between minority and white students; the high school dropout rate; the college-readiness rate; and the college-completion rate.
“We need to make sure we focus on all of these five things,” Ms. Spellings said in an interview last week.
When applied to the 7½ years President Bush has been in office, the overall index has increased, but some indicators have been stagnant during that period, she said.
The college-completion rate is 31 percent, Ms. Spellings said. Thirty years ago, the United States had the highest such rate in the world, but it now ranks 10th. “The rest of the world has passed us by,” the secretary said.
Likewise, college readiness. which is measured by sat and act scores, isn’t improving. The high school dropout rate, which is estimated by an analysis of student enrollment trends, hasn’t moved upward since 2001.
The overall index has increased because of growth in student achievement and progress in closing the test-score gap between whites and minorities such as African Americans and Hispanics. Progress on those indicators is determined by scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
Ms. Spellings attributes the achievement gains to the accountability measures in the No Child Left Behind Act, the Bush administration’s signature K-12 initiative.
She planned to unveil the new index in Washington on Sept. 15, when she was scheduled to speak at an all-day education summit sponsored by the Aspen Institute, a think tank that convened a task force to propose changes to the nclb law.
After Ms. Spellings leaves office in January, she expects that the index of education indicators will be part of her legacy.
“I hope my successor will do this,” she said. “If he or she doesn’t, I’m sure someone else will. Maybe it will be me.”
A version of this article appeared in the September 17, 2008 edition of Education Week