March 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

US Student Achievement Stalls amid Funding, Equity Hurdles, Report Shows

Despite notable progress in several key states, overall US student achievement has stalled recently in the face of funding hurdles and large equity gaps, according to the 18th edition of the annual “Quality Counts” report, released today from the Editorial Projects in Education (EPE) Research Center, the nonprofit publisher of Education Week. Ongoing economic factors, new academic standards, the complexities of local district oversight, and new technology are just a few of the many issues impacting schools across the nation, the report finds.

EdWeek_MapStReportCard“Recent years have seen the nation’s schools buffeted by a host of forces, among them the Great Recession and subsequent halting recovery, long-term demographic trends, a push for higher and more uniform academic standards, increasingly polarized politics on education issues, heightened competition within the public sector, and burgeoning new technologies with the potential to reshape the way instruction is delivered,” a spokesman for EPE says.

“And, despite a national public dialogue that focuses on America’s ranking on international tests,” the spokesman continues, “its place in the global economy, and concerns about what some see as the increasingly activist roles being taken by distant federal and state policymakers, public schooling remains a highly local affair in this country. As in the past, public school districts and their leaders are responsible for serving the vast majority of today’s students.”

“Quality Counts: District Disruption and Revival,” an evaluation of both policy making and performance in the nation, tracks individual states’ progress in the categories of K–12 student achievement, chance of success (the link between education and beneficial outcomes), and school finance trends.

This year, it includes state-by-state analysis; snapshots of five districts (Newark, NJ; Denver; Clark County, NV; Los Angeles, and Cape Girardeau, MO); examinations of the issues surrounding charter schools, voucher programs, homeschooling, and online schooling programs; in-depth dispatches from specific communities; and commentary from the researchers.

“There can be little doubt that the environment in which public schools operate is more complex today than ever before,” adds Christopher B. Swanson, vice president of EPE Research Center. “With more pressure to perform and expanded options available to students and their families, business as usual is no longer good enough for local school leaders who must fundamentally rethink how their school systems operate.”

An original survey of more than 450 school districts, included in the year’s report, shows that many stakeholders—administrators as well as lawmakers, parents, and educators—have stepped up in recent years with a variety of efforts to face the pressures of increasingly complex fiscal, political, and technological forces that are challenging districts. The results of the survey of superintendents, curriculum and instruction directors, and other district leaders also offers insights about governance strategies, competition from the private sector, expanded public schooling options, and the relationship between local officials and their state and federal counterparts.

According to the data, change has been a constant; two-thirds of respondents say their district’s superintendent has changed at least once in the past five years, while three in ten respondents reporting that they have experienced a reorganization of their district’s central office recently. Big drivers of change, according to the respondents, include economic and fiscal challenges, new accountability pressures, and pressures from the widening range of alternative school options.

In the grading section of the report, the data reveal that K–12 student achievement only scores a 70.2 in the United States on a 100-point scale, up slightly from 69.7 in 2012, the last time this was surveyed. EPE uses 18 indicators to determine this score, including National Assessment of Educational Progress results, high school graduation rates, and Advanced Placement test scores.

Massachusetts scored highest with 83.7 points and a B grade—locking in the top standing it has taken since the index was introduced in 2008—followed by Maryland and New Jersey with a B and a B-minus, respectively. The District of Columbia and Mississippi both received F grades this year.

In the school finance arena, states were assessed on eight indicators, half of which look at school spending patterns, the other half at the distribution of funding across a state’s districts.

When it comes to finance, the United States as a whole earns a C, based on 2011 data, virtually unchanged from last year’s report. Wyoming, with an A-minus, ranked first for the sixth year in a row, followed by West Virginia, New York, and Connecticut, all of which earned B-plus grades.

Meanwhile, Mississippi, Nevada, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Utah earned D grades, and Idaho earned a D-minus. The data also show per-pupil spending still varies dramatically state by state—$19,534 per  in Wyoming, the nation’s highest, down to $6,905 in Utah, the lowest. The national average for per-pupil spending stands at $11,864.

Karyn M. Peterson About Karyn M. Peterson

Karyn M. Peterson ( is a former News Editor ofSLJ.

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