Best and Worst Education--by States
Since there have been several "arguments" (fights?) on this forum about how different states and regions of our country rank academically, I've been intending for some time to look up some statistics, but haven't had time until now. I was particularly concerned because some of the statistics being thrown around were not matching my memory of studies I had read earlier.
One area that particularly drew hot fire was about whether education was rated higher in the north or the south. One set of statistics cited repeatedly here was that other than South Carolina (which was ranked the lowest), no other southern states fell into the 10 (or 25, depending on the poster) worst states--thereby proving that northerners are simply biased when they disparage southern schools.
I'm sure we can probably find some bias in some of the statements made by various posters, but I would like to clear up some erroneous information that has been offered.
That study that everyone loves to cite--placing South Carolina at the bottom (and Massachusetts at the top, I might add)--does not say what most of the people citing it claim it does. First of all, it lists the 10 (or 25) lowest performing schools--that is, individual schools (not the entire state)-- in the areas of math and science performance only. Now it is evidently true that South Carolina has 10 or so of the lowest performing schools in math and science in the nation, but that says nothing about the state as a whole -- which actually might be performing average or better, despite a handful of really poor schools in that area.
Likewise, the fact that some states did not have individual schools listed in the 10 (or 25) lowest performing does not mean their schools are performing average or better. It is perfectly possible for schools in a state to perform below average even though none of their schools won a place in the ten worst performing. If posters are interested in how the individual schools from their state did in the science and math performance categories, they will have to look up the detailed lists that allow you to check every individual school in your state.
Determining the truth about which states, as a whole, provide better or worse education is rather difficult--because it depends on what you mean by "better" or "worse" education. And that is the problem when posters start citing statistics--they rarely tell us exactly what is being "graded." As a result, different studies make different claims--sometimes even contradictory claims--which is why we should be very careful about citing one study as though it reflected the Almighty's words carved in stone.
Just to give some statistics that will balance out the somewhat skewed (or misunderstood) ones that have been repeatedly cited on our forum threads, I'm listing here information from an education journal (intended for professionals in the field) rather than watered down information printed in newspapers and intended for the general public. I picked this source (see the link at the bottom of this post) because it indicates a number of different ways that schools can be rated, and the ratings are for the state as a whole--which means that each state can have notable exceptions to that rating as a whole, but it supplies an easier to complrehend yardstick than rating separately every individual school in the state and then working out your own state averages.
The BEST and the WORST overall can be seen in the bottom chart called "Chance for Success Index" (a "best in the class" index):
BEST: Top 15 (Hmmm--mostly northern states, with one southern state)
3. New Jersy
4. New Hampshire
7. North Dakota
Next five: CO, NY, PA, WI, KS
WORST: Bottom 15 (Hmmm--no northern states, all southeastern and southwestern states)
Next five: TX, OK, SC, KY, AK
Those categories reflect more the ratings I generally remember rather than the ones repeatedly offered on this forum. However, let's see how the rankings are if we switch to somewhat different and more specific criteria.
K-12 Achievement (as in achievement tests in a number of academic areas):
Highest: Top 10
Mass, NJ, Maryland, Vermont, N. Hamp, Florida, PA, NY, Minn, Montana
(Those are mostly northern states, aren't they.)
Lowest: Bottom 10
Mississippi, W. Virginia, Dist. of Columbia, Louisiana, N. Mexico, CAlif, S. Carolina, Alabama, ARizona, Michigan
(Mostly southeast and southwest, it does seem.)
OK--a few qualification now.
Not every school in the highest and lowest rated states is performing as well or as poorly as the state average. Your school might be superb even if your state gets a low rating, and the reverse could also be true.
It is true that as far as math and science go, American schools are all over the board with no region standing out in particular. Unfortunately, most American schools perform poorly in those areas.
If you check out any number of studies over the years, Massachusetts and the northeastern schools regularly appear in the top 10 in most rankings, but other states also periodically appear in that ranking also--just not as consistently or extensively as the northeastern states do.
And if you check out any number of studies over the years, states in the "old south" often regularly appear in the bottom 10--along with a number of states from the southwest and the west.
I'm not trying to pick a fight here but rather to clear up a lot of confusion about statistics that have been often cited here. It seems that one important function this forum has is to correct misinformation that gets too freely spread around. I hope this post helps bring some clarity to this issue.
Here is a link that might be useful: Education Week (education journal)