Vermont K-12 Education Ranking Falls in New Calculation

December 18, 2018

by Rob Roper

Vermont always scores well in state education rankings from places like U.S. News & World Report and Education Week, consistently landing in the top five nationwide. However, a new analysis gives cause to question the accuracy of those rankings and how we should be evaluating our true educational quality.

Fixing the Bias in Current State K-12 Education Rankings, argues that rankings such as the ones mentioned above overemphasize factors that have little or nothing to do with the actual job schools are doing such as graduation rates, which do not necessarily reflect levels of learning, and ACT and SAT scores, which have a self-selection bias as only students on the college track take these tests. But the biggest problem the authors have with the current rankings is that they do not take into account the demographic breakdowns in the scores.

This new ranking system focuses on NAEP scores, which all public school students take, and it is a common yard stick with no self-selection bias. Moreover, where current ranking systems use as a measurement the average score of all students in a state, this new system uses all twenty-four of NAEP’s  grade/demographic categories (white, African American, Hispanic, etc.,) and analyzes how much each group is improving from test year to test year. The important factor in this ranking is improvement, a more pure measure of educational effectiveness, not overall score, which can be influenced by factors outside the classroom.

In the new ranking system, for example, a state that sees African American test scores improve more from year to year is ranked as doing a better job of educating than a state that may have a higher score, but has shown less improvement. And the same for whites, Hispanics, etc. This disallows states from taking credit for out-of-school factors such as family and socio-economic status and focuses only on how much the schools’ influence has on improving student outcomes. Under this lens, Vermont drops from 4th best in the nation per U.S. News to 28th.

Additionally, this ranking looks at funding differently than the others do. While the popular ranking systems gives credit to states that spend more money (the more you spend the higher your “good” ranking goes), this analysis gives credit for spending efficiently — bang for the buck. So, for two states that achieve the same outcomes, the state that spends less money to achieve those same results scores higher than the state that spends more. Under this lens, Vermont falls to 46th in the nation.

All of these state ranking systems are imperfect tools, but is it is helpful from time to time to look at the same thing from a different perspective. It can get you thinking; a good educational process!

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Deanne December 21, 2018 at 10:53 pm

Yes, very interesting indeed. Hmmmm…. Spending lots of money has been seen as a good thing. Why am I not surprised? Gone are the days of frugal New Englanders…


Gdp December 22, 2018 at 4:27 pm

Though the following was posted respecting a Kansas Republican state legislator who switched parties because not enough spending was done on public education, it is applicable here, particularly in view of the Brigham Court’s failure to properly articulate the scope of education in arriving at the so-called right to it:

These women were RINOs. Republicans emphasize people, not the state, private over public in the governance, and that education begins in the home with parents who retain responsibility to majority, public education, a formality ASSISTING in the nurturing of children in the development of their minds more than their bodies, so that they may become contributing members of the state without subsistence through dependence, possessing livelihoods in fulfillment of their right of life, itself of Constitutional import. Dewey’s system presupposed a foundation established in the mind to enable socialization, the heart of basic education remaining the three pillars of instruction, discipline and morality, from before birth in the dependence to death in the independence, going from familial to personal with a dose of formality in the middle. Long way to get back, eh? And the exclusive focus on public education ayn’t it.

Vermont needs to get back to local control for the PRIVILEGE of public education.


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