Leaders and Laggards: States Issued Report Cards on Educational Innovation

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce just released their 2009 'Leaders and Laggards' report. Co-authored by the liberal Center for American Progress and conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the report takes a close look at how American states are innovating - or not - in the field of education.

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The State of Public Education

In 2007, the three organizations worked together to issue the first 'Leaders and Laggards' report cards. The initial project graded each state on school performance measures such as overall academic achievement, academic achievement among low-income and minority students, rigor of academic standards, postsecondary and/or workforce preparation, teaching quality, management and policy flexibility and accurate measurement of student proficiency. The results were mixed, with some states performing well, but most showing serious deficiencies in many areas.

Two years later, the Chamber of Commerce teamed up again with the Center for American Progress and the AEI in order to explore a different measure of the state of education in the U.S. Rather than reevaluate the current performance of our nation's schools, the 2009 'Leaders and Laggards' report examines how states are preparing for the future.

Innovation is Key

Innovate or Stagnate

Educational innovation is a hot topic in the U.S. right now. Many fear that as the quality of public education gets worse students will be less prepared for college and the workforce. In turn, the country will begin to lag behind other nations in innovation in science, technology and culture. With programs like Race to the Top, the Obama administration has made it clear that education reform is a top priority, and everyone is searching for new solutions to the problems plaguing our public schools.

The 2009 'Leaders and Laggards' survey reported on eight measures of educational innovativeness:

  • Pipeline to Postsecondary: Measures how prepared students are for postsecondary education, including the percentage of schools that have dual enrollment programs.
  • School Management: Focuses on the strength of charter school laws and the percentage of teachers who approve of how their school is run.
  • Staffing: Hiring and Evaluation: Looks at how teachers and staff are hired and evaluated, including alternative certification options for teachers.
  • Staffing: Removing Ineffective Teachers: Explores teacher performance and the percentage of principals who report barriers to firing ineffective teachers.
  • Finance: Examines financial management and the accessibility of state financial data.
  • Technology: Looks at the use of technology in the classroom, including the ratio of students to Internet-connected computers.
  • Data: Explores the collection and availability of crucial evaluative data, such as state-collected college student remediation data.
  • State Reform Environment: No grades were assigned in this category, which discusses states' participation in international assessments and the presence of local education reform groups.

Postsecondary Preparedness by State

The grades states received for the postsecondary readiness of their high school graduates.

Poor Performance

In order to avoid oversimplifying the nuances of the issue at hand, the report didn't give states an overall grade. (State by state results for each category can be downloaded on their website.) However, they did offer an overview of their major findings, and the results aren't good. They found that while most states offer charter schools and alternative teacher certification, education practices in the U.S. are still incredibly stagnant.

Major concerns raised by the report include rigid bureaucracies, inefficient financial systems and incredibly poor data reporting. They also found that teachers tend to be poorly prepared, principals have very little influence in the teacher hiring - or firing - process and performance is rarely taken into account in teacher evaluation. Most states provide little to no access to college-level coursework, a crucial component in preparing students for postsecondary education. There are also major spending concerns. Although there's been a big push for schools to upgrade their technological resources, almost no research has been done on the effectiveness of current technology spending habits. Furthermore, Hawaii is the only state in the union that has a funding system based on student placement and need.

Perhaps the most distressing finding is the fact that almost all states lack a culture of education advocacy. Without strong leaders and a community invested in education reform, our nation's schools - and students - will continue to struggle.

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