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Education Week's Quality Counts: Maryland's Winning Streak at Five

Maryland's education community has reason to celebrate with soft-shelled crab and Old Bay today—the 2013 Quality Counts report from Education Week once again gave the Old Line State the highest marks of any state in the nation, based on a variety of K-12 factors in the three categories of school finance, chances for success beyond school, and transitions and alignments across the public school system. This is the fifth year in a row that Maryland grabbed top honors on Quality Counts, earning a B+, just like it did on the 2012 Quality Counts report.

Based on the report cards from all 50 states, the national "average" in 2013 was a 76.9, or a C+, a slight improvement from 2012 when the average was 76.5. The top five states (Massachusetts came in second, followed by New York, Virginia, and Arkansas) remain unchanged from 2012.

The other group of three scoring categories, the K-12 Achievement Index, the teaching profession, and standards, assessment, and accountability, were updated for the 2012 edition of Quality Counts. Each group of three scoring categories is updated every two years (in other words, the school finance, success beyond school, and transition and alignments categories were last updated in 2011).

Georgia has particular reason to be proud: In addition to getting the 7th-best grade overall, a B-, it achieved a perfect score in the "transitions and alignment" section, which measures connections between early childhood education, college-readiness, and career-readiness. It's the first time a state achieved a perfect score in that category.

When it comes to funding equity, Utah is worth a look. Back in June, I wrote about a report from the Newark, N.J.-based Education Law Center that detailed how Utah spent $1.59 in higher poverty districts for every $1 it spent in lower poverty districts. It earned top marks from the ELC for funding equity. Guess what? In Quality Counts, our research found that only $1,850 separated the highest-spending and the lowest-spending districts in the Beehive State, the smallest number among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. So there's some statistical evidence that if you think "money talks" when it comes to educational equality and fairness, you might take a closer look at Utah.

South Dakota once against finished with the lowest grade in 2013, although its 69.3 is markedly higher than the 68.1 it received in 2012. The District of Columbia moved out of the bottom five, as did Nebraska, while Mississippi and Alaska dropped in the rankings and fell into the bottom five.

Since I noted this week that the state policy report card from Michelle Rhee's StudentsFirst did not dish out any As, it's only fair to point out here that Quality Counts didn't either. Twelve states got a B- or better on Quality Counts, compared to only two in the StudentsFirst report that scored a B-. But the reports are measuring significantly different factors.

As the state policy reporter, I'm really only focusing on a fraction of Quality Counts. There's our "Code of Conduct" report about school climate, safety, and discipline, as well as interactive report cards for individual states and our "voices from the field" section. So take a look at the entire report, and hopefully you'll come away better informed.

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