Does Quality Count in Our Schools?

Yesterday, Education Week released its annual edu-stats extravaganza, Quality Counts.  The 2011 edition of Quality Counts, Uncertain Forecast: Education Adjusts to a New Economic Reality, hits on all of the usual topics, with a special emphasis on the economy and its impact on education.

Once again, Maryland is tops in the nation when it comes to education policy and performance, earning a B-plus (87.6 overall).  It is followed at the top of the list by New York (B, 84.7), Massachusetts (B, 82.6), Virginia (B-minus, 81.8), and Florida (B-minus, 81.5).
Nebraska rounds out the bottom of the list, earning a D-plus (68.6).  The Huskers were just edged out by DC (D-plus, 69.1), South Dakota (D-plus, 69.2), Mississippi (C-minus, 70.0), and Montana (C-minus, 70.4).
In the individual categories, Massachusetts was tops for “Chance for Success,” earning a A, while Nevada was last with a D and the U.S. average was a C-plus.  In “K-12 Achievement,” Massachusetts was again number one with a B, while New Mexico, Louisiana, DC, West Virginia, and Mississippi all earned Fs (with a national average of just D-plus).
For “Transitions and Alignment” (meaning early childhood ed, college readiness, and the economy and workforce), Arkansas, Maryland, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia all earned As.  Nebraska scored an F, with a U.S. average of C-plus.  And in “School Finance,” Wyoming was tops with a A-minus as Idaho scored a D-minus, with a C as the national average.
Perhaps one of the most interesting tools EdWeek offers is the State Report Cards, which can be found here.
Video highlights of the day’s program can also be found here, taken from yesterday’s live stream.
And what are the big takeaways?
* Despite the rhetoric, we have only seen minimal impact of the economic stimulus on the schools.  As EdWeek has often reported, much of the stimulus money is still being held back by the states, as they prepare for worsening days.  
* But it was surprising to learn how strong an impact education has had on the stimulus’ success.  For every million dollars spent in education stimulus, the nation created or saved 4.2 jobs.  That is almost twice the job  impact of stimulus spending in general.
* Once you carve away all of the stimulus-speak, the academic results remain quite disappointing.  On average, our states are earning a C, and that is likely a gentleman’s C at best.  Not a single state earns an overall A.  Only four states earn an A or A-minus for “Chance for Success.”  No states earn an A for “K-12 Achievement.”  And just one earns better than a B-plus for “School Finance.”
As we ask whether Quality Counts, it is clear that too many of our states are still struggling with basic math.  One doesn’t have to be a teacher to realize that this is not a report card any kid would want to bring home.  The only saving grace for even the top states is that we are grading on a very generous curve.  States that did well should be proud of their progress, but no one should be content with where their individual numbers stand.
Ultimately, Quality Counts provides a roadmap for where we have to head to achieve success.  If we are to read the roadmarkers correctly in this year’s edition, we can see that states are paying greater attention to issues like standards and accountability today, and we can only hope that that focus results in improved achievement and better QC grades in the years to come.

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