February 8, 2016
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Valuing Public Education: A 50 State Report Card

On February 2, the Network for Public Education (NPE) issued an evaluation of how well our states and the District of Columbia support public schools called Valuing Public Education: 50 State Report Card.Over the years, there have been many reports purporting to rank state policies on public education, but the NPE report card is different.

The Report Card looks at whether a state's current policies and laws---in six key areas---make public schools stronger or undermine them. This approach stands in opposition to reports released by conservative political organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which generally applaud states for privatizing public education.

NPE explains that it created this report card: " ... because it is time to focus the national debate on research-based strategies to improve education and create equal opportunities for all children. ... NPE values specific policies that will make our public schools vibrant and strong---a well-trained, professional teaching force, adequate and equitable funding wisely spent, and policies that give all students a better opportunity for success ... . We applaud those states that have resisted the forces of privatization and profiteering that in recent years have been called 'reforms.'"

The Report Card measures the policies of each State and the District of Columbia on:

  • School Finance
  • Spending Taxpayer Resources Wisely
  • Professionalization of Teaching
  • No High Stakes Testing
  • Resistance to Privatization
  • Student Chance of Success

The school finance portion of the report relies on information in "Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card," by Bruce Baker, David Sciarra, and Danielle Farrie. Referencing the most recent version of this National Report Card, NPE ranks states based on their overall per-pupil funding level, distribution of funding across districts according to poverty-based need, and "effort," that is, funding compared to state fiscal capacity. As NPE's grades indicate, most states need to improve their school funding systems, but there are models to be followed, including New Jersey, which scored the only A in this section, and five other states that scored Bs.

The spending wisely section looks at class sizes, the proportion of students in preschool and kindergarten, and a state's rejection of virtual schools. NPE cites research indicating that virtual schools are an extremely ineffective way to educate children. In this category, Montana scored the only B, and no state scored an A.

NPE used nine measures to assess states on the professionalization of teaching, including the proportion of experienced teachers, the quality of teacher preparation, average teacher salaries, and the presence of demanding requirements for certification. Only two states, Iowa and New York, received Bs, and there was no A in this category.

On testing, NPE ranked states higher based on their rejection of high stakes attached to test scores for high school graduation, student promotion, and teacher evaluations. Four states, including Nebraska and Vermont, scored A.

NPE defined resistance to privatization as the rejection of vouchers, strong oversight and control of charters, and rejection of "parent trigger" laws. Here seven states, including Kentucky and the Dakotas, earned A, while several states earned Fs, including the largest, California, Texas and Florida.

The 50 State Report Card bases its final measure, chance of success, on each state's rate of poverty, which is known to cause decreased academic achievement, and racial and ethnic integration, which improves achievement as demonstrated in a large body of research. The trends in both of these areas have been negative over the last 10 years, the report card notes, and no state scored an A. The report notes that state policymakers could improve student achievement by raising the minimum wage, providing job training and other paths out of poverty, and finding ways to promote integration.

NPE's hope is that "this report card will steer us away from policies that undermine our public schools and toward policies that will make them better for all children." After all, NPE's stated reason for supporting public education is because "public education is a pillar of our democracy."

Visit the NPE website for a link to an interactive map, and download a pdf of the Valuing Public Education: A 50 State Report Card here.

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Education Law Center Press Contact:

Molly A. Hunter

Education Justice, Director

973-624-1815, x 19

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