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Who Had the Best Education Record as Governor: Kaine or Pence?

By Alyson Klein — October 04, 2016 2 min read
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Tuesday night, Mike Pence, the governor of Indiana, and Tim Kaine, the former governor and current senator from Virginia, will mix it up in the vice-presidential debate at Longwood University in Farmville, Va.

As governors, both Kaine and Pence were big believers in career and technical education. And both lent their support, with varying degrees of success, to expanding access to early-childhood education. Pence, was a huge fan of school choice, including both charters and vouchers. And he was the first governor to walk away from the Common Core.

For his part, Kaine ordered a review of the racial makeup of gifted and talented classes, to make sure high-achieving minority students weren’t being overlooked.

But which state saw the biggest gains in student achievement, Kaine’s Virginia or Pence’s Indiana? And maybe more importantly: Does this data say anything about what kind of vice-president either man would be when it comes to education?

First, let’s look at reading and math scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the Nation’s Report Card, in Indiana and Virginia while Pence and Kaine, respectively, where in charge. We stuck with NAEP because state tests were in flux in Indiana during Pence’s tenure.

Here are the fourth grade reading scores for Indiana and Virginia. The years that Kaine and Pence were in charge are highlighted in yellow. We’ve included other years so you can see growth: (Click each graphic to enlarge).

Here’s the NAEP for fourth grade math:

And here’s eighth grade reading:

And eighth grade math:

You’ll notice that there neither candidate could claim a big spike in NAEP scores during their tenure. In fact, the scores went down in some years and subjects under both governors.

So what does this mean?

Not necessarily all that much, because you should be careful about jumping to big conclusions based on NAEP scores. The data is fun to look at, if you’re the kind of person who reads wonky education blogs. But you shouldn’t put a ton of stock in it. Experts we interviewed for a similar story we wrote just over a year ago say it’s nearly impossible to tell whether a particular governor, or their policies, made any difference when it comes to student achievement.

Those caveats may not stop Kaine, or Pence, from claiming that they were great stewards of their K-12 systems on Tuesday night, of course.

Photos from left: Republican Vice Presidential candidate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence gestures during a speech in Virginia Beach, Va., in August (AP Photo/Steve Helber); Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine speaks in Daytona Beach, Fla., in August (Red Huber/Orlando Sentinel via AP).

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Holly Peele, Library Director contributed to this article.