Report: Arkansas #45 In Education? But Gov. Beebe Said We Were #5! (Updated!)

ALEC Report Card on American Education
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Hey, how was your National School Choice Week? Why, mine was lovely, thanks so much for asking!

We round out the week with a look at the latest Report Card on American Education from the good folks at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), ranking these 50 states for their performance on a variety of measures related to K-12 education.

OK, let’s take a look here (turns pages, turns pages, jesus this thing is long). Hmmm, Arkansas lands at number 45…But wait! Weren’t Gov. Mike Beebe and the Arkansas Dept. of Education just trumpeting news two weeks ago that Arkansas was fifth in the nation in education? I think they were! What gives, huh?

The study Beebe et al. were wetting their pants over was the Education Week Quality Counts 2011 survey, which ranked Arkansas #5 based on education policies.

But notably, the Quality Counts study gave the state “low marks in two areas two areas where the state has long struggled to advance: Student achievement and the chance for a successful career with an Arkansas education,” according to the Arkansas News Bureau’s John Lyon. Gosh, those kind of seem like areas where you’d want to get the high marks!

(In addition, here’s a good explanation of the shortfalls of the Quality Counts survey from a couple years back by all-around smart guy Stuart Buck from the University of Arkansas Dept. of Education Reform).

The ALEC study aims to provide a more comprehensive look at how state education performs based on student scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). By their figuring, Arkansas lands at 45th in the nation. The ALEC study even gives letter grades for education policy, scoring Arkansas with a gentleman’s C.

The ALEC researchers are also heavy into various school reform measures, with high praise for different education reform programs in disparate states like Massachusetts, Florida and Indiana. To hear them tell it:

The past two years however have been crucial, however, in demonstrating that reform is not only necessary but in fact achievable. In the past, governors gave lip service to education reform but tended to simply increase spending and kick the can down the road. The 2010–2011 period witnessed something entirely different: lawmakers taking on the reactionary education establishment directly, and defeating them repeatedly.

States having passed reforms must move vigorously to implementation, given the huge difference between changing law and changing policy and opportunities for subversion. Reformers in other states should carefully study the comprehensive approaches of Florida and Indiana lawmakers. Dramatic improvement results from broad, rather than incremental, reform.

On a related note, you should go back and read Dan Greenberg’s Arkansas Project submission from last summer, Confessions of an ALEC Conspirator, which pooh-poohs all the paranoid liberal handwringing about the organization with a calm look at the facts about the role ALEC plays in policymaking. Facts! Is there anything they CAN’T do?

UPDATE: The gang at the UA Office of Education Policy put together a dynamite policy brief that explains both the strengths and weaknesses of the Education Week Quality Counts survey. Go read it, if that’s your thing.

Report Card on American Education: Ranking State K-12 Performance, Progress and Reform (American Legislative Exchange Council)

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