The Grades Are In

02.09.12 | Ralph Kerr | Comments[1]

When parents in a local school district are asked to grade the school their children attend the grade averages B+ to A. This seems to indicate a great deal of satisfaction with the performance of their child’s school and the impact the school is having on the child’s learning. The final grade for schools in New York State is now in and the grade is 83.9 or B. Schools in Pennsylvania earned 78.7 or a C+. That’s the overall Statewide Grading Summary from the 2012 “Quality Counts” Report. This report published annually by Education Week magazine provides a state-by-state comparison of key education indicators and grades the states on their policy efforts and outcomes. In all the graded categories span more than 100 indicators, ranging from test scores, to teachers pay, from graduation rates to finances. The average grade for schools in the nation was 76.5 equal to a C-minus. The good news is that overall scores improved in 30 states during this past year. This improvement occurred despite continued fiscal pressures in all states.

One of the indicators which draw much attention is that of per-pupil expenditure. In Pennsylvania the average per-pupil cost is $12,906 while New York per-pupil cost is $15,863. Large city districts like Buffalo, NY where the cost per pupil is over $25,000 certainly impacts this average in a negative way. Other states in this report range from a low of $8,363 in North Carolina to a high of $18,068 in Wyoming. The National average for per-pupil expenditure is $11,665. Interesting enough despite spending nearly $3,000 less per-pupil Pennsylvania schools scored better than New York schools in 4th grade reading, 8th grade mathematics and high school graduation rates. In Advanced Placement exams, specialized college exams taken by seniors in high school, New York schools nearly doubled Pennsylvania results, although both states schools showed significant improvement in this area. The high school graduation rate nationally was 71.7%, in New York State the rate was 71.8%, while in Pennsylvania the rate was 77.7%

In the ever controversial area of teacher salaries, teachers in New York achieved a parity rating of 106.7% while Pennsylvania teachers earned 105.9%. This means that when teachers’ salaries are compared with other professions with similar educational requirements like, accountants, architects, registered nurses and physical therapists, teacher salaries on average are slightly higher. It is worth noting that if you factor in employee benefits for teachers, which often run 25% higher than the private sector, these parity rating really begin to climb. In my opinion it is unfortunate that teachers’ salaries and benefits are still not tied to pay for performance or student achievement in some meaningful way.

Another comparison that often raises concern is class size, the number of students in a class with one teacher. Many people, including many teachers, argue for smaller class sizes even though educational research is very mixed on the impact positive or negative of class size. The Report shows that in elementary schools the number of children in the average class in New York State is 13.4, in Pennsylvania 14.3. This compares with an average class size in Utah of 23.5 students and in California 21.2. This appears to be an area where school districts could be looking to achieve some economy by increasing class size, perhaps without negatively impacting student performance.

It is important that the reader of this material understand that local schools may have very different and unique circumstances that make comparison with a state or national study very difficult or even unfair. As a result I urge readers to use the information presented as a data point when asking local school officials questions about their school.


Your Comments(please keep them on topic and polite)

on 05.22.13 Michelle commented

My first and fouth graders have 22 and 26 kids in their classes in WNY. I don't know how the average size is 13.4 for NY. I would like info on how that number was reached? Were there a lot of private schools included? Home schooling included too? That stat doesn't make sense to me.