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Education Ranking Systems Are Based on Varying Measures of Success

Published:  January 28, 2013

Three organizations recently released new education rankings of states. Education Week’s Quality Counts is a comprehensive analysis of states’ education policies and student outcomes, conducted by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center. New this year is a ranking report from StudentsFirst, under the leadership of former DC schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, which looks at how “reform-minded” states are, as defined by policies such as expanding the charter school sector and tying teacher and principal evaluation to student performance. The National Council on Teacher Quality’s State Teacher Policy Yearbook hones in on teacher preparation systems.

An older, fourth report – the Foundation for Child Development’s Child Well-Being Index – puts all three new rankings in perspective, by taking a deep dive into a variety of factors that affect student learning, both within and outside of the classroom. (Full disclosure: FCD is one of our funders.)

StudentsFirst vs. Quality Counts

Comparing the StudentsFirst and Quality Counts rankings, we see that the top states are very different, because the two groups have such varying takes on how to measure educational excellence. In a post for our sister blog Ed Money Watch, Anne Hyslop notes that while it’s relevant to examine the kinds of policies states are enacting, the only thing she learned from the StudentsFirst report card was “which states have adopted Michelle Rhee’s favored education reforms.” Indeed, StudentsFirst prioritizes a specific choice and accountability agenda, while Quality Counts looks at evidence of student learning, and also factors in socioeconomic indicators such as family income and adult educational attainment. Here are the leading states according to these two reports:

 Rank

 Students First

 Quality Counts

 1.

Louisiana

Maryland

 2.

Florida

Massachusetts

 3

Indiana

New York

 4

DC

Virginia

 5

Rhode Island

Arkansas

 6

Michigan

Florida

 7

Hawaii

Georgia

 8

Arizona

New Jersey

 9

Colorado

West Virginia

 10

Ohio

Kentucky

 11

Tennessee

Vermont

 12

Delaware

Ohio

 

The StudentsFirst report card focuses on three major areas: Elevating the Teaching Profession, which includes teacher evaluations that place significant weight on measures of student growth, as well as alternative teacher certification laws; Empowering Parents with Data and Choice, which includes opening new charter schools and holding them accountable for results; and Spending Wisely and Governing Well, which includes reforming teacher pension systems and allowing schools and districts flexibility when it comes to spending choices. Other priorities include mayoral control of city school systems, merit pay for teachers and teacher layoffs based on effectiveness, not seniority.

Education Week’s Quality Counts offers a more comprehensive evaluation of state policies, looking at four areas: transition and alignment between pre-K, K-12 and higher education; how equitable school financing is across districts, both affluent and poor; standards, assessment and accountability; and the teaching profession. Quality Counts also factors in indicators such as student achievement, family income, high school graduation rates, preschool and kindergarten enrollment and adult educational attainment.

Quality Counts finds that only five states – Alaska, Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada and Wyoming – fund school districts with less property tax revenue at equal or higher levels than wealthier districts. The StudentsFirst rankings evaluate states’ policies on equitable funding between public schools and charter schools, but leave out policies addressing disparities in funding across public school districts. StudentsFirst also neglects state policies on what children are expected to learn in each grade or in pre-kindergarten and other early education programs.

Neither ranking evaluates whether states provide full-day or half-day kindergarten. While Quality Counts does look at states’ subject-area standards (what children are expected to learn), only math, English language arts, science and social students are included. The arts, as well as whether states include other learning domains, such as physical education, social-emotional learning, and persistence, curiosity and problem-solving are not factored into the rankings.  And while Quality Counts does look at policies on alignment of states’ early learning standards with K-12 standards, and factors in the percent of 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in preschool programs, there is no assessment of states’ policies on ensuring the quality of early childhood programs.

Where these two groups have some overlap is on teacher policies. Quality Counts did not update its teacher section this year, but last year’s grades are factored into the most current rankings. Quality Counts considers state policies on teacher licensing, evaluation, accountability for teacher preparation programs, teacher retention and supporting and developing working teachers.     

Teacher preparation was missing from StudentsFirst’s assessment of teacher-related policies. StudentsFirst instead concentrated on how teachers and principals are evaluated, whether those evaluations include measures of student growth, how the results are used for personnel decisions and pay and whether states allow alternative pathways for certification. Providing prospective teachers more routes to certification can be beneficial, but the majority of teachers will continue to come from college and university schools of education. Because of this fact, it is important to know what standards states are setting for educator preparation and how they are, or are not, holding those programs accountable for producing effective teachers.

NCTQ's Teacher Policy Grades

Much of the responsibility to improve teacher education programs lies with states, which can pass laws that require colleges and universities to update and improve their preparation programs. The National Council on Teacher Quality’s 2012 Teacher Policy Yearbook graded states’ policies on how well they ensure teacher education programs are “preparing classroom-ready new teachers.” On average the states earned a D-plus on their standards for:

  • Admission into teacher preparation programs;
  • Elementary teacher preparation;
  • Middle school teacher preparation;
  • Secondary teacher preparation;
  • Student teacher; and
  • Teacher preparation program accountability.

Adding NCTQ’s teacher preparation grades into the mix, we see a little more overlap between the various rankings. Florida is the only state found in the top 12 on all three lists.

 Rank

Students First

Quality Counts

NCTQ

 1.

Louisiana (B-)

Maryland (B+)

Alabama (B-)

 2.

Florida (B-)

Massachusetts (B)

Florida (B-)

 3

Indiana (C+)

New York (B)

Indiana (B-)

 4

DC (C+)

Virginia (B)

Tennessee (B-)

 5

Rhode Island (C+)

Arkansas (B-)

Connecticut (C+)

 6

Michigan (C-)

Florida (B-)

Kentucky (C+)

 7

Hawaii (C-)

Georgia (B-)

Massachusetts (C+)

 8

Arizona (C-)

New Jersey (B-)

Minnesota (C+)

 9

Colorado (C-)

West Virginia (B-)

Texas (C+)

 10

Ohio (C-)

Kentucky (B-)

Arkansas (C)

 11

Tennessee (C-)

Vermont (B-)

Georgia (C)

 12

Delaware (C-)

Ohio (B-)

Louisiana (C)

 

FCD’s Child Well-Being Index

Let’s add one more set of rankings into this mix: the Foundation for Child Development’s Child Well-Being Index (CWI). The most recent state rankings (2007) include information on seven domains of child well-being: family economic well-being, health, safety/risky behavior, education attainment, community engagement, social relationships and emotional/spiritual well-being. Quality Counts does analyze students’ “chance-for-success,” but does not look at out-of-school factors with the depth that FCD does. No state at the top on the StudentsFirst list also appears at the top on the CWI. In contrast, four states at the top of the Quality Counts list also rank high on FCD’s Child Well-being Index.

Rank

Students First

Quality Counts

Child Well-Being

 1.

Louisiana

Maryland

New Jersey

 2.

Florida

Massachusetts

Massachusetts

 3.

Indiana

New York

New Hampshire

 4.

DC

Virginia

Utah

 5.

Rhode Island

Arkansas

Connecticut

 6.

Michigan

Florida

Minnesota

 7.

Hawaii

Georgia

Iowa

 8.

Arizona

New Jersey

North Dakota

 9.

Colorado

West Virginia

Maryland

 10.

Ohio

Kentucky

New York

 11.

Tennessee

Vermont

Pennsylvania

 12.

Delaware

Ohio

Virginia

 

While the StudentsFirst and Quality Counts rankings both provide useful information on states’ education policies, neither looks deeply at what states’ are doing to support early learning from pre-K through the third grade. Which states would rank at the top if these reports considered PreK-3rd reforms such as full-day kindergarten, family engagement, data use, early childhood and elementary school licensure and preparation for teachers and administrators, standards, curricula and assessments in the early years and grades?

We’ve written about other lists ranking states on certain early childhood issues: NIERR’s Pre-K Yearbook, Child Care Aware’s rankings on state policies to regulate small family child care programs, First Focus’s children’s budget rankings, along with FCD’s 2012 national Child-Well-Being Index and Annie E. Casey’s Kids Count rankings. But we have yet to see a list that ranks states comprehensively on PreK-3rd policy issues like the ones we mention above. Have you? Let us know.

 

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