Education Week recently released the first of what will be three reports entitled, "Quality Counts 2018: A Report Card for States and the Nation on K-12 Education." Now in its 22nd year, the publication "aims to illuminate what the high-performing states did well, how low-performers are approaching improvement, and lessons for boosting the quality of K-12 education overall."

For the report, states were graded based on two indicators, which are spelled out in more detail here:

Chance for success: The report looked at factors from early foundations to school years to adult outcomes. These included things like:

  • family income
  • parent education
  • parental employment
  • linguistic integration
  • preschool and kindergarten enrollment
  • elementary reading achievement (4th grade NAEP test)
  • middle school math achievement (8th grade NAEP test)
  • high school graduation rate
  • post-secondary enrollment and completion statistics for adults ages 18-24
  • adult education attainment
  • adult annual income
  • steady employment

School finance: The focus in this area was on equity and spending. Factors considered included:

  • the wealth-neutrality score (the degree to which a school district's revenue is correlated with its property-based wealth)
  • the McLoone Index (a ratio of per pupil spending that is below the median to the amount it would take to raise all students to the median)
  • the level of variability in funding across school districts in a state
  • the difference between spending levels for the districts serving students at the fifth and 95th percentiles of the per pupil distribution
  • adjusted per pupil expenditures
  • the percent of students in districts with per pupil expenditures at or above the U.S. average
  • a spending index
  • the percent of total taxable resources spent on education

In the 2018 report, New England states fared extremely well, taking four of the top five spots in the nation. The top five states according to this report were Massachusetts, New Jersey, Vermont, New Hampshire and Connecticut.

In this article, Education Week reporter Daarel Burnette II took a deeper look at these top-performing states in an effort to find commonalities that might suggest what top-performing school districts do well.

Burnette reached the conclusion that top-performing school systems generally have these five traits in common:

  • Robust economic environments: They exist in communities where families find more stable sources of income, which results in fewer moves and school changes for students. Schools are adequately funded to meet the academic, social and emotional needs of students, and systems are in place to use funds to close achievement gaps between wealthier and poorer students.
  • High K-12 test scores and graduation rates: Burnette wrote, "States with high NAEP reading and math scores tend to have high teacher-quality and learning standards, a strong and consistent accountability system, and aggressive and effective school turnaround models that garner plenty of public support."
  • Relatively high spending on schools: Burnette noted that while funding formulas vary from state to state, high-performing states tend to spend more per student even when they do not equitably spread their money among their K-12 schools.
  • Strong foundations in early childhood programs: Access to high-quality preschool programs for all students is a key indicator for this area. It was noted that New Hampshire, for example, "provides literacy screenings of its earliest learners and offers free pre-K summer camp to those who score in the 49th percentile."
  • Widespread postsecondary participation: Simply put, high- performing school systems and states get high levels of students into and through postsecondary programs.

This report is timely for me as a high school principal as the schools in my state of New Hampshire are currently going through the budget approval process with our communities.

School funding, as you might expect, seems to be the common thread to all of this. Schools need funds to develop strong foundations in early childhood programs, which will lead to higher K-12 test scores, graduation rates and widespread postsecondary participation.

Yet adequate school funding cannot be achieved without robust economic environments. This puts high emphasis on schools to work closely with community and state leaders to address workforce challenges that prevent businesses from attracting and retaining quality workers.

How are high-performing states working on this? New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen's office recently published a report entitled "New Hampshire's Workforce Challenge: Innovative Approaches to Attracting and Retaining Workers."

The report highlights several state and federal programs and initiatives that are designed to improve affordable housing and child care options and address the skills and education gaps in the state. New Hampshire's approach could provide a blueprint for other states looking to improve the conditions that will lead to higher student achievement in schools.