This week, Ed Money Watch’s parent initiative – the Federal Education Budget Project (FEBP) – released updates to its National Rankings pages. The updated pages provide in-depth analysis of the most up-to-date data on per-pupil spending, student demographics, and student achievement in the 50 states and the District of Columbia and how these factors interact.
The state rankings pages use FEBP data to rank the states based on 2008 data on per-pupil expenditures, student poverty rates, school finance inequity, and nationally defined graduation rates, and 2009 data on student proficiency on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 4th and 8th grade math and reading tests. The FEBP team analyzed these rankings to draw conclusions about the relationships between these indicators.
We noticed a few overall trends in the updated data. First and foremost, region played an important role in all of the data we analyzed, creating significant disparities between students’ educational experiences in different parts of the country.1 For example, average per pupil expenditure in 2008 was highest in the Northeastern United States at $14,965. In the same year, the Northeastern states also had the lowest average student poverty rate at 13.3 percent. On average, a higher percent of students scored proficient or above on the 2009 NAEP 4th and 8th grade reading and 4th grade math tests in the Northeast than in any other region. And the average graduation rate was 78.2 percent in 2008, behind only the Midwest where the graduation rate was 82.1 percent.
In the South, on the other hand, the average per pupil expenditure in 2008 was $8,910 – the lowest in the country – and 19.9 percent of students in the region were living in poverty, the highest proportion in the country. The percentage of students scoring proficient or above on the 2009 NAEP 4th and 8th grade reading and 8th grade math tests was lower in the South than in any other region of the country. The South had the lowest graduation rate in the country at 71.7 percent in 2008.
Though per pupil funding and poverty are not the only factors that affect student achievement, it’s impossible to ignore the relationship between these factors and NAEP proficiency and graduation rates in the Northeast and South. In fact, data for all 50 states suggest a general trend that students in states with higher per pupil expenditures and lower student poverty rates perform better on the NAEP tests and graduate from high school at higher rates.
However, there are a few exceptions. For example, Rhode Island ranked sixth in per pupil spending, but 34th in 8th grade reading proficiency and 37th in 8th grade math proficiency. On the other hand, South Dakota ranked 42nd in per pupil expenditure, but ninth in 8th grade reading proficiency and eighth in 8th grade math proficiency. These outliers suggest that student outcomes are not entirely dependent on per pupil spending – it also matters how the money is spent. But few states manage to overcome the influence poverty has on student performance. Most students in states with high student poverty rates do not perform well on NAEP tests. Kentucky, which had the seventh highest poverty rate in the country in 2008, ranked 11th in 4th grade reading and 19th in 8th grade reading. While the state did not perform exceptionally well, it did better than any other state where student poverty was above 19 percent.
The National Rankings pages illuminate many trends in the education data that are impossible to identify when looking at each state individually. In fact, the data suggest that students’ educational experiences are largely determined by where they live. Students in the Northeast and Midwest experience lower rates of poverty and higher per-pupil expenditures and tend to score proficient or above on the NAEP tests at higher rates than their peers in the West and South. However, the interesting cases are those that buck the national trends – those states where per pupil expenditures are low or poverty is high and students still perform well on the NAEP tests. These examples deserve further analysis to discover if there are ways other states can learn to better leverage per pupil dollars or overcome poverty and improve student success.
1 Regions. Northeast: Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont. Midwest: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin. South: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia. West: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming.