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'Kids Count' Study: States Defy Neat Categories in Ed. Performance

You definitely want to check out my colleague Sarah D. Sparks' extensive blog post today at Inside School Research on the recent Kids Count Data Book from the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation, its annual ranking of child well-being, which includes child health and education indicators from each of the 50 states. Sarah gave a great overview of the data, which shows child poverty on the rise, but also improving health and education statistics. Let's look a bit more closely at the state-by-state data.

If you go to this specific section of the report, you'll find that "education" as a category has six subcategories, including early childhood, school age, young adults, test scores, race and ethnicity, and "other." Within those six subcategories there are a total of 40 individual data sets, ranging from "high school students not graduating on time" to 8th grade achievement tests and "children who speak a language other than English at home." You can also organize the state data using a map if you wish.

As Sarah noted in her blog post, the Northeast and Midwest for the most part outdid their counterparts in the South and Southwest. At the most general level, the Casey Foundation ranked Massachusetts number one on all education indicators. The Bay State ranked fourth overall in National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) gains in a Harvard study I touched on recently, and came in second in the Quality Counts state rankings Education Week published earlier this year, so it's not a shock to see Massachusetts come out on top.

The Northeast continued to dominate with New Jersey and Vermont ranked second and third, respectively, followed by New Hampshire and Connecticut. Nevada brought up the rear at number 50, with New Mexico at 49th, Mississippi at 48th, West Virginia at 47th, and Arizona at 46th.

But despite the general success of some regions compared to others, you can't fit all states into neat boxes.

For example, the Casey Foundation shows the percentage of black 4th graders in public schools who scored below proficient on the NAEP reading test from 2011. Among the lowest-ranked states, specifically those that had between 87 percent and 92 percent of their black 4th graders score below proficient, are Southern states like Louisiana, South Carolina, and Arkansas.

But alongside them you'll find Midwestern states like Ohio, Illinois, and Wisconsin as low performers. And the lowest performer of all, with 92 percent of black 4th graders below proficient, is Michigan. (It's worth pointing out that lots of people might not be thrilled that the "top-ranked" states like Hawaii, New Jersey, and Rhode Island still had 71 percent to 78 percent of black 4th graders scoring below proficient on the NAEP reading test.)

On the other hand, when you look at high school graduates aged 25 to 29 who had a bachelor's degree or higher by state in 2010, the regional dynamic Sarah described emerges clearly. Among the states in the lowest-ranked group (between 17 percent and 23 percent of people fitting that demographic) are Arkansas, Mississippi, and New Mexico. However, among the 11 mid-Atlantic and New England states ranging from Maryland to Maine, only Maine and Delaware fell outside the top category of having 33 percent to 47 percent of people fit that demographic profile.

With the bachelor's degree data, for example, you can also look at changes over time. Between 2000 and 2010, South Dakota and Nebraska have slipped out of Casey's top category (although in Nebraska's case it was only by a percentage point, while South Dakota fell 4 percentage points). South Carolina and Arizona slipped also. By contrast, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island all improved.

But don't stop with my quick data analysis. You can get information involving the head of household's educational attainment, English-language ability, and more, although not all states provided information for all the categories Casey looked at.

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