USNews gave NJ the top ranking for its education system, which is of course very good news for the state.
The even-better news is that USNews’ ranking did not count the amount of spending as an absolute positive like EdWeek’s ranking. Indeed, EdWeek concluded that NJ’s top-ranking was “largely due” to high education spending. In evaluating pre-K-12 education, USNews looked at high school graduation rates, pre-K enrollment, NAEP test scores and the percentage of graduates passing the SAT/ACT. The problem is that, as with EdWeek’s ranking, graduation rates and pre-K enrollment are not direct measures of K-12 student learning, which is the most important measure of the quality of a public school system. SAT/ACT scores could be a measure but USNews measures the percentage of graduates who “passed” the tests (not the average score). As reported in Sunlight’s piece on the EdWeek rankings, the Cato Institute makes a vey strong case that the best direct measure of K-12 student learning is disaggregated NAEP scores.
Importantly, Cato disaggregates NAEP scores (EdWeek and USNews do not) to account for the demographic make-up of students, which avoids penalizing states that have a large number of minority students who tend to do less well on standardized tests like NAEP. NJ does very well, finishing 4th. But FL finished 3rd and spends less than half what NJ does. Cato is also the only study that looked at the “efficiency” of a state’s spending as measured against NAEP scores – the “bang for the buck” – which should matter a great deal to a state’s taxpaying citizens. Here, NJ came in 21st. Good but not great.
Sunlight’s main point is that both the EdWeek and USNews rankings show that the NJ K-12 public schools are generally very good, but both EdWeek and USNews measure factors other than student learning and do not measure the efficiency of a state’s education spending. Only Cato shows that NJ’s education spending is excessively high and inefficient. From a broader perspective, education spending, like all government spending, has negative implications for taxes, the economy and the outmigration of people to other states – including many of the students graduating from our school system.
But inefficient and extremely high education spending suits the NJEA very well: higher salaries, better benefits, and most importantly more dues-paying members. So the NJEA is very pleased to trumpet EdWeek’s and USNews’ rankings because they help to justify NJ’s excessively high spending. But as Cato shows – and EdWeek and USNews don’t – NJ spends more than it needs to, which benefits the NJEA more than it does students.