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New 'Leaders and Laggards' Report From U.S. Chamber: Which States Improved?

Seven years after its "Leaders and Laggards" analysis found that states needed to do "a far better job" of delivering high-quality education, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation has released the 2014 version of its report grading each state's education policy and outcomes on an A-F scale, and surveying the national landscape of student achievement. 

"Leaders and Laggards: A State-by-State Report Card on K-12 Educational Effectiveness," released Sept. 11, reports that while every state has improved on K-12 policy from 2007 in some respects, states still show "wide variation" in how much their K-12 spending results in strong outcomes, and that, "American students are a long way from being internationally competitive."

The report uses 11 indicators to measure K-12 "educational effectiveness" among the states, including academic achievement; academic achievement specifically by low-income and minority students; parental options; data quality; and fiscal responsibility. (The group also released a related report on educational innnovation in the states in 2009.)

A caveat is that some will find ideological or other reasons to be critical of the organizations and indicators used by the Chamber. The group relies on a variety of assessments and K-12 policy organizations for its rankings, including the National Council on Teacher Quality and Education Next magazine. Some have questioned NCTQ's research practices, for example, and Education Next publishes articles supporting school choice. The Chamber also praises the states for adopting "higher standards," a reference to the Common Core State Standards.

The lead researchers for the report are Michael McShane and Daniel Lautzenheiser, who work at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a right-leaning think tank in Washington.

For academic achievement, the study relies on a variety of student scores on recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests; for ranking states on having a "21st Century Teaching Force," the Chamber relies on state rankings on the NCTQ grades for states. Advanced Placement tests were used for the post-secondary readiness indicators and international competitiveness, both priorities for the Chamber.

Keep in mind that the Chamber chose to  assigned 10 states to each of the A, B, D, and F grade levels, and 11 states to C grades (the report includes the District of Columbia).

Also, when you see the "Progress made" since 2007 category in the chart, the grade doesn't represent the state's actual grade from 2007. Rather, it represents the extent to which a state improved in that category—so an A grade means that a state improved a great deal in the Chamber's estimation. For example, D.C. made a lot of progress on the Chamber's academic achievement indicator, earning it an A in the "Progress made" category. But it still earned an F grade in the academic achievement category in 2014 because of its performance relative to other states. 

• Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Minnesota, and New Jersey, get A grades for academic achievement, while D.C., Mississippi, and Louisiana rank at the bottom. In terms of progress made, Maryland, Tennessee, and Rhode Island got A grades for progress, while Texas, Michigan, and South Carolina got F grades.

• The states receiving top grades from the Chamber specifically for the academic achievement of low-income and minority students were led by Hawaii, Montana, Wyoming, and Massachusetts—several of those states have relatively low percentages of both groups of students, however. Georgia, Indiana, and Minnesota earned A grades for progress made since 2007, while Kansas, New York, and Idaho earned F grades in that category.

• Using a combination of NAEP scores and per-student expenditures adjusted for the cost of living, the Chamber awarded A grades to Utah, Colorado, Idaho, and Washington state. Trailing the field is the District of Columbia, while Louisiana comes in at 50th and West Virginia at 49th.

Also check out edweek.org opinion blogger Rick Hess' take on the report at his Straight Up blog (Hess works at AEI and provided additional research for the report).

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