Chamber of Commerce grades states' schools. How did yours do?

The US Chamber of Commerce issued its 'Leaders & Laggards' report grading state education systems. It’s pushing for better schooling leading to economic growth, innovation, and competitiveness.

Sue Ogrocki/AP
Third-graders take a summer reading class at an elementary school in Oklahoma City.

The US Chamber of Commerce Foundation released a report Thursday offering a business lens on educational progress in each state.

The “Leaders & Laggards” report gives each state a letter grade on 11 factors ranging from international competitiveness to the return on investment for education spending.

While noting some progress – with students in every state improving in math and reading in recent years – the report presses states to boost students’ ability to meet rising benchmarks for preparing for college and careers.

“Business has a huge stake in education, and therefore we must have a voice in the debate,” said John McKernan, president of the foundation, at an event releasing the report in Washington. “Without a steady flow of talent, we can’t drive economic growth, we can’t propel innovation, we can’t advance American competitiveness or create opportunities for American workers.”

The states did not receive a composite grade in the report, but seven states earned at least four As: Colorado, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Vermont each earned four; Minnesota earned five; Massachusetts six.

“Just like every other [education] report card, organizations choose the indicators that reflect the values of that organization … and that may not be the same indicators a parent would use to evaluate their schools,” says Jim Hull, senior policy analyst for the National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education.

“What’s most useful is it gives the states the ability to see how they compare” and how they may want to improve, he says.

As part of its measure of “postsecondary and workforce readiness,” for instance, the report looks at what percentage of high school graduates passed a College Board Advanced Placement exam with a score of 3 or higher. In Connecticut, Maryland, and Virginia, nearly 30 percent did, while in Louisiana and Mississippi, 5 percent or less did. The national average was 20 percent.

“American students are a long way from being internationally competitive,” the report notes.

To grade states on this factor, it used student scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) compared with international benchmarks; passage rates on AP exams in science, technology, engineering, and math; and passage rates on AP foreign language exams.

The highest passage rate on foreign language was in California, at 9 percent. The highest rate on STEM exams was in Massachusetts, at 16 percent.

Some of the categories are driven by the Chamber’s support for certain approaches to education reform. Ten states earned an A on parental choice, based on state policies and on the percentage of students that attend charter schools or private schools paid for by their families or by government vouchers. (The top 10 states earned an A.)

One category particularly encourages a businesslike perspective: Return on investment. The amount spent on education was compared with a NAEP score index and adjusted for cost of living. Again, the top 10 states earned As.

Return on investment is important to consider, but the report’s measure “is very limited in usefulness,” says Mr. Hull of the school boards association. “It is too simplistic because it really doesn’t account for the difference in the type of students each state enrolls in their public schools.” States with some of the lowest-performing students may have to spend more to accelerate gains, he says.

Among the other measures in the report are the quality of a state’s teaching force (based on a reform group’s index), fiscal responsibility (based on pension funding), and student access to high-quality computer-based instruction.

To see your state’s grades on the “Leaders & Laggards” report go here.

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