Quality Counts 2008: Report Card Grades States on Education Performance, Policy

Quality Counts 2008: Report Card Grades States on Education Performance, Policy

Education Week launched a new report card today, grading the states across six areas of education performance and policy. While the U.S. posted a grade of C overall, the average state earned a D-plus on public school achievement, the poorest showing of any graded category. Marks were also low for state efforts to improve teaching, where 10 states earned a grade of D or lower.

One of the six areas included in Education Week's report card, the teaching grades cover state efforts to increase accountability, provide incentives for talented people to enter and stay in the profession, monitor and allocate the distribution of talent, and build the capacity of teachers and principals to improve student learning. South Carolina earned the highest grade in the category, an A-minus.

In addition, a new analysis by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, which is used as part of the state report card, finds that the average U.S. public school teacher makes only 88 cents for every dollar earned by individuals in 16 comparable professions, such as accountants, architects, occupational therapists, and registered nurses.

The analysis is included in the report, Quality Counts 2008: Tapping Into Teaching, Unlocking the Key to Student Success, which also found that workers in other occupations have a greater chance to earn above-average salaries than teachers, whose wages are more compressed. A state-by-state assessment shows that teacher earnings fail to reach the parity mark in 40 states and the District of Columbia. The least-competitive teacher salaries were found in North Carolina and Missouri, where earnings are less than 80 percent of those for comparable workers.

“Quality teaching matters more to student learning than anything else schools do,” said Christopher B. Swanson, the director of the EPE Research Center. “Yet the importance of teachers is not adequately reflected in either their salaries or their career trajectories over time, and it is clear that states could be doing far more to address the issue.”

As part of the report, produced with support from the Pew Charitable Trust's Center on the States, Education Week also developed a new framework for strengthening the teaching profession, based on a yearlong analysis of the best thinking and current practices in the field, finding that states could be doing much more than they are now (see attached summary).

A Progress Report on Performance

In addition to the teaching grades (where the nation received a C), Education Week's report card includes grades for five other areas of educational policy and performance—chance for success (C-plus); achievement of K-12 schools (D-plus); standards, assessment, and accountability (B); transitions and alignment (C); and school finance (C-plus).

Some states perform consistently well or poorly across the full range of categories, but a closer examination of the rankings reveals that most states post a strong showing in at least one area. The report was designed to be a useful tool in providing a broad evaluation of state performance and to offer a more nuanced perspective on the educational condition of the nation and of the 50 states.

“Retaining educated talent and maintaining a good track record in overall performance and quality of education programs is critical to a state's future economic health,” said Susan Urahn, managing director of the Pew Center on the States. “Children adequately prepared in youth make more productive workers and more informed citizens—in short they lead more successful lives.”

In the first of the report card's performance categories, the EPE Research Center's “Chance-for-Success Index” provides a cumulative look at the importance of education in a person's life from birth through adulthood. The index covers a set of 13 indicators highlighting whether young children get off to a good start, succeed in elementary and secondary school, and hit key educational and income benchmarks as adults. No state earned a perfect score, though several did very well. Massachusetts leads the nation with the only A, followed by New Jersey, New Hampshire, and Connecticut, each earning an A-minus.

States are also graded on a “K-12 Achievement Index” that focuses specifically on student learning in elementary through high school. The achievement index evaluates how well a state's students perform compared with those in the top-ranked state on 18 separate indicators. The index takes into account current state performance, improvements over time, and poverty-based achievement gaps. Massachusetts again leads the nation, earning 82.5 points and a B. Maryland was the only other state to receive a B, while New Jersey earned a B-minus. The report found severe poverty disparities in many of the top-achieving states.

Quality Counts 2008 also grades the states in the following three areas:

  • Standards, Assessments, and Accountability: With an average grade of a B, states make a stronger showing in this area than in any other graded category. Indiana, Louisiana, New York, Ohio, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia earned an A. Ten states earned an A-minus. An analysis conducted by the EPE Research Center in 2006 found a positive relationship between states with strong standards, assessments, and accountability systems and gains on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
  • Transitions and Alignment: This category tracks whether states have adopted a definition of school readiness, require all high school students to complete a college-preparatory curriculum to earn a diploma, and have adopted definitions of college and workforce readiness. The top states—Arkansas, Georgia, Maryland, Michigan, New York, Tennessee, and West Virginia—have implemented at least 10 of the 15 alignment policies tracked by the grades.
  • School Finance: A revised school finance section grades states on school spending and the equitable distribution of resources. The eight measures of equity and spending that appear represent some of the most commonly used indicators in school finance research. This year, only West Virginia earned an A, while New Jersey earned an Aminus.

Special Web-Only Features Available at edweek.org

  • The full Quality Counts 2008 report and online-only commentaries by key education researchers, policymakers, and practitioners on ways to strengthen the teaching profession: www.edweek.org/go/qc08.
  • “State Highlights Reports” for every state feature detailed, state-specific data on the Chance-for-Success and K-12 Achievement indices, as well as the other areas in which states receive grades: www.edweek.org/go/qc08/shr.
  • A “Grading Calculator” lets readers calculate grades for states based on weighting schemes that they devise themselves: www.edweek.org/go/qc08/calculator
  • Two online discussions about Quality Counts 2008 at www.edweek.org on Friday, January 11, and Wednesday, January 16, at 3 p.m. EST.

The EPE Research Center is the research division of the Bethesda, Md.-based nonprofit Editorial Projects in Education. The Research Center conducts policy surveys and collects data for the Quality Counts, Diplomas Count, and Technology Counts annual reports and maintains the Education Counts and EdWeek Maps online databases. It contributes research and data to Education Week and edweek.org. The EPE Research Center is on the Web at www.edweek.org/rc.

The Pew Charitable Trusts applies the power of knowledge to solve today's most challenging problems. The Pew Center on the States identifies and advances effective policy approaches to critical issues facing the states. Online at www.pewcenteronthestates.org.