January 11, 2011

Maryland public schools at top of class for third consecutive year

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By Len Lazarick
Len@MarylandReporter.com

For the third year in a row, Maryland public schools have again been ranked No. 1 in the nation by Education Week magazine.

Maryland’s K-12 system again achieved this top-of-the-class status with a B+ grade (87.6), edging out New York and Massachusetts with their B grades by 3 and 5 points, respectively.

The magazine’s annual report card, “Quality Counts,” grades the states in six separate categories with dozens of performance measures. Only some of them are tied to student achievement. In this category, Massachusetts gets a B, ahead of Maryland and New Jersey which each earned a B-minus.

Children at bus stop

Children wait to board a school bus. Photo from Beth Tribe.

The average state earned a D-plus in this category. Four states – Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico and West Virginia – and the District of Columbia got a failing grade of F in that category.

In fact, the only category in which Maryland earned an A was the one called “Transitions & Alignment,” which assesses 14 policies relating to student readiness and preparedness to go onto the next level of education or into the workforce.

State Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmick said she was “thrilled” with the “unprecedented” achievement of being No. 1 three years running.

“Much of it is related to the policies we’ve put in place,” said Grasmick, who has served as state superintendent for almost 20 years.

While the state has made large increases in education spending over the last seven years, “funding without these strong policies is not enough,” Grasmick said.

Gov. Martin O’Malley, who touted Maryland’s education performance as a key achievement in last year’s reelection campaign, cheered the latest report card.

“In this changing new economy we are in a fight for our children’s future,” O’Malley said in a statement. “In this fight, there will be some states that lose, and some states that win. For Maryland to win we must move forward by creating and saving jobs through innovation, and that includes protecting our best-in-the-nation public school system. ”

Here are the highlights of Maryland’s performance:

Maryland does extremely well in indicators of the level of education funding – with all of its students funded at or above the national average, ranking it No. 1 in that indicator. (page 16) But the state scores poorly on the relationship between district funding and local property wealth, the key funding source for most school systems in the country. (All Maryland counties can tax the incomes of their residents, a factor absent in most states.)

Maryland scores in the middle of the pack (22nd in the nation) for its 74% high school graduation rate, and ranks 17th for the percentage of the population in post-secondary education. It also scores poorly on the “poverty gap,” the percentage of students in the school lunch program who score below the national average on standardized tests in reading and math.

But Maryland is No. 1 in the nation in the percent of students with scores on Advanced Placement tests, and the improvement it made on those scores. This figure is also frequently touted by Grasmick and O’Malley.