Celebrating Back To School Success

Celebrating Back To School Success

As 485,000 students return to public
school districts across the state, it is a good time to reflect on an important
fact: our schools are helping more students achieve at higher levels than ever
before in history.

There are three common criticisms of public education: (1) educational outcomes are declining or stagnant at best; (2) public schools
are particularly failing to meet the needs of low income and minority students;
and (3) taxpayers are “spending more and getting less” from public schools.

In fact, academic achievement and educational attainment has been rising, the achievement gap between whites and minority students has been closing, and school spending as a share of personal income is lower than it was in 1970.

Long Term Reading and Math Scores


The National Assessment of Education Progress released a new
long term report card this summer that tracked reading and math performance at ages nine,
thirteen and seventeen since the 1970’s. (This study is different from the biennial
NAEP test report for reading and math, which report results by individual states at
grades four and eight. State NAEP results for 2013 are due to be released this fall.)  The long term report card report
found that performance had improved for all students at age nine and
thirteen and was essentially unchanged at age 17.

But it also found that performance for each
major racial/ethnic group of students – white, black and Hispanic – had
improved at all three age levels.  Black and
Hispanic students still score lower than whites, but the gap has been narrowed
over the past four decades.  The
percentage of non-white students more than doubled since the 1970’s.  If not for changes in the racial composition
of students tested, performance would be up at all ages.  In other words, there more many more minority students who on average score lower than white students; but the scores of minority students have increased more than majority students. U.S. schools are educating more challenging students to higher levels.

Changes in NAEP reading average scores and score gaps for 9-, 13-, and 17-year-old students, by selected characteristics: various years

Characteristics Subgroups Score changes from 1973 Score changes from 2008
Age 9 Age 13 Age 17 Age 9 Age 13 Age 17
All students All students up arrow13 up arrow 8 arrow arrow up arrow 3 arrow
Race/ethnicity White up arrow15 up arrow 9 up arrow 4 arrow arrow arrow
Black up arrow36 up arrow24 up arrow30 arrow arrow arrow
Hispanic up arrow25 up arrow17 up arrow21 arrow up arrow 7 arrow
Gender Male up arrow17 up arrow 9 up arrow 4 arrow arrow arrow
Female up arrow10 up arrow 6 arrow arrow up arrow 3 arrow
Score gaps White – Black Narrowed Narrowed Narrowed arrow arrow arrow
White – Hispanic Narrowed Narrowed Narrowed arrow Narrowed arrow
Male – Female Narrowed arrow arrow arrow arrow arrow
up arrow Indicates score was higher in 2012
arrow Indicates no significant change in 2012.

Changes in NAEP mathematics average scores and score gaps for 9-, 13-, and 17-year-old students, by selected characteristics: various years

Characteristics Subgroups Score changes from 1973 Score changes from 2008
Age 9 Age 13 Age 17 Age 9 Age 13 Age 17
All students All students up arrow25 up arrow19 arrow arrow up arrow 4 arrow
Race/ethnicity White up arrow27 up arrow19 up arrow 4 arrow arrow arrow
Black up arrow36 up arrow36 up arrow18 arrow arrow arrow
Hispanic up arrow32 up arrow32 up arrow17 arrow arrow arrow
Gender Male up arrow26 up arrow21 arrow arrow arrow arrow
Female up arrow24 up arrow17 up arrow 3 arrow up arrow 5 arrow
Score gaps White – Black Narrowed Narrowed Narrowed arrow arrow arrow
White – Hispanic arrow Narrowed Narrowed arrow arrow arrow
Male – Female arrow arrow Narrowed arrow arrow arrow
up arrow Indicates score was higher in 2012
arrow Indicates no significant change in 2012.

Graduation Rates

The 2013 edition of  “Diplomas Count,” an annual study of
high school graduates, found U.S. graduation rates have reached a forty-year
high, with strong growth over the past decade. “Much of the nation’s improvement since 2000
has been driven by strong gains for historically underserved groups,” the report reads. “Graduation rates for Latino students have
skyrocketed 16 percentage points over this period, reaching 68 percent for the
class of 2010. Rates for black students, now at 62 percent, have risen 13
points.”

These findings are supported by the National Center for Education
Statistics in the report  Trends in High School Dropout and Completion Rates in the United States: 1972-2009This report used a different calculation, but also found improving high school graduation
rates since 1972 for all students. This
report shows the “achievement gap” between African American and Hispanic
students and white students was reduced by more than half for both groups.


Graduates Take Rigorous Classes

Not only are more students completing high school, they are graduating with more and tougher classes. According to the Digest of Education Statistics, the average number of units completed at graduation increased by more than five since 1982 (from 21.6 to 27), and almost all of the increase has been in core academic courses. These courses help prepare students for post secondary education.

Adult Educational Achievement

Improving basic skills, graduating more students, and more rigorous courses completed at graduation results in the highest levels of educational attainment ever achieved in this nation.

The U.S. Census Bureau has a wealth of data on the educational status of Americans at this site, including a number of charts such as the following:


Last fall, the Pew Research Center released the report “Record Shares of Young Adults Have Finished Both High School and College,” which focused on educational results since 1970. It found significant improvements in levels of post secondary completion for all major population groups aged 25-29 over the past 40 years.

Cost


Americans are clearly getting more from their public school
system in terms of high school and post secondary completion, but at
what cost?  Certainly, total expenditures
have increased, from $40.7 billion in 1969-70 to $559.2 billion in
2010-11. But so has the U.S. economy and
personal income to support education.

  • In
    1970, total public school expenditures were 4.7% of total U.S. personal income
    of $864.6 billion.
  • In 2011, school
    spending was 4.2% of total personal income of $13,191.3 billion.  
  • Americans are spending less of their total
    income on public schools in 2011 than they were over 40 years ago, but a higher percentage of students complete high school and a much higher percentage complete some level of higher education.  (Source: Digest of Education Statistics, Bureau of Economic Analysis.) 

Note that schools have also significant new responsibilities since 1970, such as special education services and Title IX requirements, which have a major impact on staffing and facility needs.

Kansas leads the national and regional average in educational attainment, while spending below the national average per pupil and at the regional average using the most recent data available.