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B.E.D. developers compiled data from the US Census Bureau, the Department of Education, and, in a unique twist, the sexual health advocacy organization, the Guttmacher Institute, to create an application that lets users navigate through all 50 states — plus the District of Columbia – to ascertain which state is getting the most out of its education spending.
Wrought under the Benjamin Franklin maxim that, “An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest,” the interactive infographic ranks state spending effectiveness in terms of the usual benchmarks, including academic performance, graduation rates and student-teacher ratios. However, a traditionally non-academic metric — teen pregnancy – grabbed my attention.
The B.E.D. infographic shows that states with high teen pregnancy rates consistently rank poorly across the board on reading, writing, math and science. Moreover, with the exception of Virginia, the infographic shows that high rates of teen pregnancy skew heavily towards the South and Southwest. Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, and North Carolina all have high rates of teen pregnancy and comparably low rates of academic performance. New Mexico is the state with the highest rate of teen pregnancy (the District of Columbia is worst at 51st). Both New Mexico and DC are extreme academic laggards.
By contrast, education spending shows a significantly looser correlation with academic performance. New York state spends the most on education at $19,076 per student, yet ranks 40th in rates of high school graduation. Oklahoma spends $7,587 per student, yet ranks 27th. Even accounting for cost-of-living differences, the per-capita spend is far higher in New York than in Oklahoma. While the states that comprise New England rank uniformly high in overall education spending, they also generally rank in the top third of academic performance.
Alas, while education spending in Sarah Palin’s home state of Alaska is the third highest in the land, Alaska ranked 49th in the rate of high school graduation and a dismal 34th in 8th grade reading. Moreover, California, our nation’s most populous state — and home to a rash of Edtech startups — ranked a ridiculous 47th in 8th grade math, 46th in reading, and 42nd in writing. One is tempted to shout, “If Google, Facebook, Netflix and Apple really want to do good in their home state, they would wisely invest the billions on their balanced sheets in reversing these stats.” Unfortunately, if the B.E.D. infographic shows anything, it’s that money alone will not solve academic underachievement.
There are glimmers of hope. The Dakotas, for instance, seem to be getting the biggest bang for their education buck. North Dakota scored 1st in 8th grade math and science, 2nd in reading, and 4th in writing, even though the Roughrider State ranks 18th in education spending. Meanwhile, South Dakota scored 3rd in 8th grade math, 5th in 8th grade reading, and 2nd in 8th grade science, while ranking 41st in education spending. Besides impressive frugality, the common denominator between the two Dakotas is a low student-to-teacher ratio (North Dakota ranks first, South Dakota ranks eleventh).
Unfortunately, a high student-to-teacher ratio is not a magic bullet either. The District of Columbia, for instance, ranks second in education spending — with the third best student/teacher ratio — yet the District still ranked dead last in 8th grade math and reading, and 40th in the rate of high school graduation. Interestingly, while DC has abysmally low high school graduation rates, of those DC students who do graduate high school and go on to college, 50 percent end up graduating college. By contrast, only 17.6 percent of all West Virginia high school students who go on to college end up actually graduating college. Only a few states showed a positive correlation between high school and college graduation rates.
“Many analysts and pundits speak of United States education as if it were one unit, but in reality every state and locality decides how much money to allocate towards education and how to allocate it,” the editors at BestEducationDegrees said in a press release obtained by Crotty On Education. “There are some federal guidelines and some federal spending, of course, but in the end every state is a micro-laboratory for education.”
Well, okay, that’s boilerplate edu-speak. What’s missing from the B.E.D. analysis is what makes efficiently spending states like South Dakota and North Dakota such academic stalwarts, and what makes demographically divergent states like New Mexico (where a nationally low 67% of students graduate high school) and Mississippi (which ranks near the bottom in all categories measured) – and high-spending Washington, DC — such perennial academic losers.
To unravel that quandary, I await feedback from the deep-thinking readers of this column in the Comments area below.
You can follow James Marshall Crotty on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. To learn about his other works, including his two documentaries on urban education — Crotty’s Kids and Master Debaters — please visit www.JamesCrotty.com.