Photo above by www.audio-luci.it with Flickr Creative Commons License
By Alexis Webb
Maryland top officials frequently cite the state having the “best schools in America” five years in a row, based on a report card in Education Week magazine.
But recent ratings from two other sources, the “Kids Count Index” and Wallethub, indicate that the state’s school system still has room for improvement.
“The New Kids Count Index,” a national scorecard published in July by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in Baltimore, ranks Maryland 8th in the nation on education, but 14th on both children’s economic well-being and their health.
Overall in child well-being, Maryland ranked 12th, with Massachusetts ranked 1st in Casey’s “Kid Count Index.” Virginia ranked 9th overall and 10th in education behind Maryland, but slightly ahead of Maryland in economic well-being and health at 11th place.
In this 25th annual Casey index, Maryland improved in all four of the education categories, but declined in three of the four categories of economic well-being.
See the chart below. The story continues below the chart.
Wallethub, an online resource known for rating tools conducted two studies suggesting the data be reexamined with different metrics. The website’s study, “2014′s States with the Best and Worst School Systems” ranks the Maryland school system 14th of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
In “Best and Worst States for Underprivileged Children,” Maryland ranks 19th for children that live below the poverty line in Wallethub’s second study.
The first Wallethub study analyzes schools in a “School System Quality Rank” in which data is gathered using various measuring sticks. Virginia ranks 7th in this scale, New Jersey ranks 1st and Massachusetts, 2nd. In the Casey ranking for education, Massachusetts comes 1st and New Jersey, 2nd.
Some areas include “The Percentage of Children Who Repeated One or More Grades” and “Pupil/Teacher Ratio,” Maryland fell two spots with a 16th place ranking. A second division of the study ranks the nation’s schools in an “Education Output & Safety Rank”. This category is used to determine the success of “Producing Students 25 years and Older with a Bachelors Degree or Higher,” “Safe Schools,” and “Low Bullying Incidents,” Maryland also ranked poorly in the 27th position.
Here is an interactive map with the ratings of other states in education visible by hovering the mouse over the state. The story continues below the map.
Richie Bernardo, the author of the two studies offers a little insight into the methodology used to consider the data, “We use different metrics than some of the other organizations that conduct these types of studies…we take a look at previous studies that have been conducted and see what metrics they’ve weighed, and from there we figure out which ones are important. We don’t just include test scores, dropout scores, graduation rates. That’s not very telling of the quality of the schools…. we included safety metrics … spending metrics.”
Studies like Wallethub’s also reveal that a bigger budget and greater spending isn’t equivalent to better school systems.
“The amount of state funding these schools receive is not a determinate of it’s quality,” Bernardo said. “You’ve got school systems like Alaska who rank #4 in spending, but fall to #38 in overall rank. So it’s less about how much is being spent but how well these dollars are being invested in education.”
Maryland’s consecutive above -average scores often pushes the state ahead of neighboring school districts. These scores offering a preferential perspective of the school system, examining Maryland’s education policies and student performance but excluding factors like student safety and teacher-to-pupil ratio.
While the quality of education in Maryland has been consistent, studies like Wallethub’s are uncovering masked gaps.
“While we praise the school systems that have done well for their students, the overall purpose of our study is not to shame the states that rank below the rest of the country,” Bernardo said. “Rather, we hope to point out their weaknesses, so our lawmakers and school administrators might consider these as areas of improvement.”