Every reformy group in the country regularly issues "report cards" about how well states are pursuing one reformster policy or another. We have been long overdue for a report card for how well states are defending and supporting the public education system that is one of the pillars of democracy. Now that wait is over.
The Network for Public Education today releases its 50 State Report Card, providing a quick, clear, simple look at how the various states are doing when it comes to supporting public education.
NPE has developed the grade based on six criteria; the actual research and point breakdown were done with the assistance of Francesca Lopez, Ph. D. and a research team at the University of Arizona. And yes, NPE is aware of the irony of using letter grades, a rather odious tool of reformsters.
As a matter of principle, NPE does not believe in assigning a single letter grade for evaluation purposes. We are opposed to such simplistic methods when used, for example, to evaluate schools. In this case, our letter grades carry no stakes. No states will be rewarded or punished as a result of our judgment about their support or lack of support for public education.
States ended up with a GPA based on the six factors. The top state score was a 2.5 (Iowa, Nebraska, and Vermont) and the lowest was Mississippi with a 0.50. Let's look at the best and the dimmest in each category.
No High Stakes Testing
NPE looked for states that rejected the use of the Big Standardized Test for a graduation exam, a requirement for student promotion and a factor in teacher evaluation.
Grade A: Alabama, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, and Vermont
Professionalization of Teaching
Here NPE looked at nine factors, including experienced teacher pool, average early and mid-career salaries, rejection of merit pay, teacher attrition and retention rates, tenured teachers, high requirements for certification, and proportion of teachers prepared in university programs. In other words, is teaching actually treated like a life-long profession for trained professionals, or a quick pass-through temp job for anybody off the street?
Grade A: Well, that's depressing. Nobody. Iowa and New York scored B's.
Bottom of the Barrel: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, North Carolina, and Texas. No surprises here, particularly with North Carolina and Florida, which have gone way out of their way to trash teaching.
Resistance to Privatization
Of course, dismantling public education and selling off the parts to profiteers has been a signature feature of reformster policies. So NPE looked at resistance to choice in all its various porcine lipstickery formats, resistance to using public tax dollars to pay for private schools, controls on charter growth, and rejection of the parent trigger laws.
Grade A: Alabama, Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and West Virginia
The Pits: Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, and Texas. Ka-ching.
Equitable and adequate funding is the great white whale of education. Even when states put better funding formulas in place or are forced and fine by the courts to get their act together (looking at you, Washington), there's a whole lot of fail out there. NPE looked at per-pupil expenditures adjusted for poverty and district size, school funding as a part of state gross product, and how well the state addresses the need for extra resources for high-poverty areas.
Grade A: New Jersey. That's it.
Stingy McUnderfunding: Alabama, Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, North Dakota
Spending Taxpayer Resources Wisely
This is where NPE sets its spending priorities (contrary to some critical opinion, pubic ed supporters do not simply believe that public ed should have All The Money). The priorities that NPE focused on were lower class size, less variation in class size by school type, more pre-K and full day K, and few students in cyber schools.
Grade A: Well, nobody. Montana gets a B.
Centers of Foolishness: Idaho, Nevada, and Washington
Chance for Success
This category looks at societal factors that can have an impact on student success. NPE researchers focused on proportion of students not living in low-income households, proportion of students living in households with full-time employment that lands above the poverty line, and how extensively schools are integrated by race and ethnicity.
Grade A: None. But ten B's, so there's some hope here.
Failureville: Alabama, California, Georgia, Mississippi, Montana, and Texas
The report comes with an appendix that gets into more detail as far as specific methodologies. In fact, one of the general strengths of the report is that it's very easy to take in the results at either a quick and simple level, or to drill down for more detail. In fact, the NPE website has a handy interactive map that lets you take a quick look at each state's grade breakdown.
The report is handy for comparison, and for a depressingly clear picture of which states are beating up public education badly. It is transparent enough that you can discuss and debate some of the factors included in the findings. I can certainly see it as a tool for young teachers looking for a place to land.
Take some time to look through the report. It's not a pretty picture, but understanding where we are will help us develop more ideas about how to get where we need to be.