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When It Comes to Public Schooling, US Gets a Failing Grade

New report finds no state measures up across six criteria, from resistance to privatization to chance for student success

On average, no state scored higher than a C across six categories of criteria. (Photo: Steven Depolo/flickr/cc)

When it comes to supporting public education and investing in opportunities for students in K-12 schools, most of the U.S. gets a failing grade.

The Network for Public Education (NPE), a reform group co-founded by education advocate Diane Ravitch, on Tuesday issued its annual "state report card," analyzing states on six criteria: resistance to privatization, the professionalization of teaching, school finance, allocation of taxpayer resources, reliance on high-stakes testing, and the chance for academic success.

The analysis, Valuing Public Education: A 50 State Report Card (pdf), explains its methodology:

We evaluated states on six criteria aligned with our values. Laws, policies and practices that impact these criteria were rated. We also considered the measurable effects those laws and policies have on schools. For example, although there are no longer laws that allow racial segregation, a state’s housing and school choice laws affect the student demographics of schools.

[....] The average of the six letter grades was then used to create a GPA, which was converted into an overall state letter grade. 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 state will be rewarded or punished as a result of our judgment about their support or lack of support for public education. We assign the grade, and provide the sources from which it is derived, to alert the public about whether their state is acting as a responsible guardian of its public schools.

The national average across all categories was a D. (Network for Public Education)

With all factors measured, no state scored higher than a C, with eight receiving F's and the large majority of the country getting D's. On an individual basis, some states did well—New Jersey got an A for its financial support of public schools, while Montana, Nebraska, Kentucky, West Virginia, Alabama, and the Dakotas got As for resisting privatization—but even those states earned low or failing grades in other categories. 

"Our hope is that this report card will steer us away from policies that undermine our public schools and toward policies that will make our public schools better for all children," the analysis states in its introduction. "If we are willing to invest time and money guided by the right values, we will see steady progress for our public schools and our nation’s children."

As teacher and education writer Peter Greene explained in a blog post Tuesday, "The report is handy for comparison, and for a depressingly clear picture of which states are beating up public education badly.... 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."

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