by Dr. Terry Stoops
Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
I have never met Ned Barnett, the associate opinion editor of the News & Observer. But he shows me a little love in an op-ed published today:
Terry Stoops, vice president of research for the right-leaning John Locke Foundation, is the reliable defender of the Republicans’ educational malpractice. On cue, he told The N&O’s education reporter, Keung Hui, that there was a bright side to being 37th. He noted that North Carolina still outranks Arkansas, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia.
Maybe for now, but North Carolina isn’t done sinking.
I wouldn’t consider myself a “reliable” defender of Republican education policies. I tend to go where data and facts take me. But analyses based on available data are not always helpful. In the story about the Education Week ranking that Barnett references, N&O reporter Keung Hui included this quote from me:
Stoops, of the Locke Foundation, said the report is disproportionately based on spending.
“The fact that North Carolina doesn’t spend as much as other states is probably the only reason we’re in the bottom half of states nationally,” Stoops said. “If the ranking did a better job of tying expenditures and performance and what kind of bang for the buck that the state gets for what it spends, it would be a more reliable ranking.”
The point that I was trying to make in that jumble of words is that ranking states based on separate input and outcome measures is not a reliable way to determine the quality of public school systems. Instead, Education Week researchers should draw on the growing body of educational productivity research to determine the return on investment of taxpayer dollars. The Center for American Progress used to publish a productivity analysis of school districts that examined spending in the context of student performance and demographics. Stan Liebowitz and Matthew Kelly do something similar in “Fixing the Bias in Current State K – 12 Education Rankings.” Liebowitz and Kelly argue,
Though well-intentioned, most existing rankings of state K–12 education are unreliable and misleading. The most popular and influential state education rankings fail to provide an “apples to apples” comparison between states. By treating states as though they had identical students, they ignore the substantial variation present in student populations across states. Conventional rankings also include data that are inappropriate or irrelevant to the educational performance of schools. Finally, these analyses disregard government budgetary constraints. Not surprisingly, using disaggregated measures of student learning, removing inappropriate or irrelevant variables, and examining the efficiency of educational spending reorders state rankings in fundamental ways.
The Liebowitz and Kelly analysis places North Carolina 13th in the nation.
But there I go again…carrying water for Republicans by writing about comparability and sound ranking methodology. What a hack!