Tuesday, February 2, 2016

NPE: National Public Ed Report Card

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

Flunkeroonies: Mississippi

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.

School Finance 

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.


  1. But in NJ Governor Christie refuses to fully fund the school funding formula! He does what he wants and wants to further deregulate and expand charters! Public school budgets in sending districts are being decimated.

  2. Thanks for sharing. This report will prove to be a valuable tool for all of us fighting to maintain state level support for strong, democratic public schools.

  3. The NPE might have talked to some economists about the difference between what they thought they were measuring and what they ended up measuring.

    Take Professionalization of Teaching, for example. Several of the categories that went into that grade (at the very least these are "experienced teachers", "rate of teacher tenure", and "teacher attrition rate") are correlated with population growth rates.

    This correlation is easy to see. If the number of students in a school district increases, school districts will hire new teachers. These teachers will tend to be young, tend to be nontenured, and because they are young and nontenured, more likely to leave the teaching profession as they learn they are ill-suited to teach.

    We see this bias in the grades for this category. The "GPA" in this category of the 10 fastest growing states is .8. The "GPA" in this category of the 10 slowest growing states is 1.7. If the authors wanted to isolate the impact of state policy, they should have controlled for student population growth.

  4. It's pretty ironic that New Jersey (my home state) is the only state to get an A for equitable funding. This is likely driven by decades of court cases (called the Abbot Cases) which compelled the State of NJ to give money to poor urban districts not only to bring them up to average spending but actually to surpass affluent districts.

    Unfortunately, all of these dollars haven't improved educational performance in these districts. In fact, four of the most expensive schools in the country (on a per student basis) also have among the lowest graduation rates:

    Camden, NJ - $23,356 38.6% grad rate
    Newark, NJ - $21,896 73.6% grad rate
    Trenton, NJ - $20,663 41.3% grad rate
    Jersey City, NJ - $20,366 58.5% grad rate


    Greene often criticizes charters for lack of accountability. But here are schools that are given plenty of money and yet waste it. In fact, in some of these schools (such as Camden) they can't even account for where the money was spent ?


    In Newark, they are apparently more brazen though no more accountable. In the review for Russakoff's book looking at Newark schools, she finds:

    "The KIPP charter network, which runs Spark, gets $16,400 per Spark pupil, of which $12,664 is devoted to the school. The district schools get $19,650 per pupil, but only $9,604 trickles down to the schools. Money that the charter school is spending on extra support is being soaked up by the bloated bureaucracy in the public school system. It is a devastating fact."


    When district schools stop using liberal judges to force the state to spend more money on poor districts who give more to union led schools (though less reaches the classroom) than charters, then we can talk about accountability.

    1. The bureaucracy problem has nothing to do with the unions.

  5. I happen to live in Montana, which scored very well in many categories. However, I'm distressed that the word "success" is still being thrown around as the ultimate goal of education. If, as is true in most discourse about education, success is defined as getting good grades, going to a good university, graduating with honors...all so that you can "get a high-paying job," then I suggest that this is an extremely biased and inaccurate definition. Did if ever occur to the "graders" that people in Montana and nearby states have their own definition of success? Many residents of Montana and the Dakotas are farmers and ranchers. The hard life of a rancher is unlikely to appeal to those who equate success with sitting in a New York office counting your money, but is that due cause for deciding that children in a state have little or no chance of success? Difficult as it is to believe, there are some people for whom money high grades, a degree from a prestigious university, and a huge bank account isn't the ultimate measure of success. This is one more example of the arrogance of the rich and the devaluation of the hard-working people through whose efforts this country keeps running.