As most already know, Massachusetts is consistently ranked first in the NAEP test and has been improving each year. How? While there are many nuanced reasons, many which haven’t been fully studied, there are a number of reasons I feel we can confidently point to.
Strength of Testing and Curriculum
We may have many complaints about the MCAS, but as anyone who has taken a comprehensive look at standardized tests from the other 49 states knows, ours does a better job than most (I would say better than the rest) in clearly assessing the actual knowledge our students are expected to acquire at their given grades. Connecing to this idea is Ravtiche’s strong assertion that a well written curriculum is key to improving our schools. In her book, Ravitch points to the strength of our state’s curriculm framework as a measuring stick for all other states to follow. Ravitch insists that a strong, well-written curriculum is an oft-overlooked but integral part of having a strong education system. In all subjects, from art to science, teachers plan their year’s lessons based on these frameworks, and in many states these hallow and vague frameworks leave their teachers in the dark about what to actually teach. Massachusetts does not suffer from this problem.
While there is not enough data to confidently say that strong teacher unions equal strong educational systems, the unionized teachers in this state maintain high expectations for themselves and their profession. These union members are not the caricatures that some reformers would like them to be. Whether it be the employment requirements for all teachers in MA or the recent moves by MTA to embrace certain aspects of reform Mass teachers are dedicated to their profession and their duty to educate our children.
We Treat Education as a High Priority
though we could do more
Every politician in every state talks about how important it is to make education a priority. In Massachusetts, we do more than talk. According to this report by the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, Massachusetts ranks high in spending per pupil. The state’s cost-adjusted per-pupil spending level of $14,060 exceeds the national average by over $1,800, or roughly 15 percent. We rank 11th in this regard, which in my mind is a testament to our priorities. It’s no surprise that many of the states that rank low in the NAEP also rank low in spending per pupil.
It is surprising, however, to learn the following:
Massachusetts ranks high in per-pupil spending but ranks low in total education spending as a percentage of the state economy. As an affluent state, Massachusetts has a greater capacity to invest in education than lower income states. The state’s high per-pupil ranking reflects these greater resources, even when correcting for higher costs. (Massachusetts also ranks high on educational outcomes as reflected in National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) standardized test scores, often leading the nation.) However, when viewed as a share of the state’s total ability to fund education-the total size of the economy-Massachusetts ranks lower than many less affluent states.
Massachusetts continues to rank low in state funding as a percentage of the total economy, although this percentage increased steadily during the mid to late 1990s.
In addition, the report states that
even with the growth in education spending as a share Massachusetts’s economy over the past 15 years, the state continues to lag behind the national average. According to the most recent US Census data, on average education makes up 4.90 percent of a state’s economy, almost 13 percent more than in Massachusetts
Personally I look at this information from the MBPC and see only potential. If we already rank number 1 in education while lagging behind most of America in spending as a share of our economy and as a percentage of personal income, think of where we could be if we improved in these areas.
Our nation’s public education ranks nowhere near the top when compared with education systems in other industrialized nations. No news there, just thought I’d remind everyone.
The percentage of our commonwealth’s best and brightest are nowhere near the top when compared those of many other nations, although these comparisons still make me proud of MA. For example:
-In math scores, while we may lag significantly behind Taiwan, Hong Kong and Korea, we are very close to Germany and Austria and rank ahead of France, the U.K., Israel, Sweden, Norway, Ireland and Spain.
-Mississippi’s math scores, on the other hand, have more in common with the educational systems of Serbia, Thailand, Romania and Azerbaijan.
-Today’s Washington Post has a piece by Linda Darling Hammond that, in addition to Ms. Ravitches book, got me thinking about all of this today. Take the time and read through it.
Having trouble making a hyperlink for the Post article, so here it is: http://www.washingtonpost.com/…