Type to search

Must Read Opinion

Sorry, Massachusetts: Florida Is No. 1 in Education … Maybe

Share

People love ranking stuff and poring over rankings, from

best beaches
to
worst public restrooms
. State elementary and secondary
education systems are not immune to the obsession, with the
education news outlet Education Week, and the king of
rankings U.S. News and World Report, furnishing two
high-profile examples. But
new rankings
from University of Texas at Dallas professor Stan
Liebowitz and graduate student Matthew Kelly, published by the Cato
Institute, challenge those assessments. While other rankings may
give credit for achievement scores without considering important
differences in state populations, or seem to assume that greater
inputs necessarily mean better education, Liebowitz and Kelly
compare achievement for similar groups across states, and how
efficiently those levels are achieved. They aim to be more
apples-to-apples, and bang-for-the-buck.

State rankings are,
frankly, of limited value. But if we’re going to have them, at
least one set ought to focus on more fair comparisons, and
efficient use of hard-earned taxpayer dollars.

The table below is the papers’ ultimate ranking. It is
based first on how several racial and ethnic groups compare to each
other across states, which is more fair to states with greater
populations of people who have suffered discrimination, or who
might have higher concentrations of non-native English speakers. It
also accounts for spending adjusted for state cost of living. The
goal is to identify the best outcomes per dollar spent rather than
assume that spending more taxpayer money must be good. This vaults
largely southern states, including top-three Florida, Texas, and
Virginia, into the highest slots. In Education
Week
’s most recent “Quality
Counts
” ranking, in contrast, Massachusetts, New Jersey,
Connecticut are the top states, and Florida, Texas, and Virginia
place 26th, 41st, and 10th. In the 2018
US News
ranking
Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New Jersey take the top slots,
with Florida 40th, Texas 33rd, and Virginia 12th.

So should all Americans pack up their belongings and run, not
walk, to Florida, Texas, and Virginia to get great k-12 education?
Not so fast. As the authors note, rankings are, frankly, blunt
instruments that mask wide variation among districts within states,
and among schools within districts. You could move into a
“good” district in a “bad” state, or a
“bad” district in a “good” state. And I use
scare quotes not to frighten but to highlight that there is also
widespread disagreement about what constitutes “good”
or “bad” education. There seem to be appreciable limits
to what test scores tell us, for instance; increasing research
suggests higher scores
don’t necessarily correlate with other desired outcomes

such as high school graduation, or college completion. And some
families may value things like a school fostering critical
thinking, or strong morals, more than standardized test numbers, or
how many grads are admitted to Ivy League institutions.

State rankings are, frankly, of limited value. But if
we’re going to have them-and alas, we love them so!-at least
one set ought to focus on more fair comparisons, and efficient use
of hard-earned taxpayer dollars. These rankings do those
things.



You Might Like
Learn more about RevenueStripe...
Cato Institute

A public policy research organization dedicated to individual liberty, limited government, free markets, and peace.

  • 1