Five Common Traits of the Top School Systems

By Daarel Burnette II for edweek.org

States that rank high on Quality Counts‘ annual report card—including this year’s top five—typically share common strengths when it comes to supporting their education systems. They may enjoy good economic climates, for example, or built-in advantages like a large proportion of parents with strong educational backgrounds.

But while factors like a state’s underlying economy or family demographics are important, some high-performing states also make the most of strategies that can prove useful to policymakers elsewhere, no matter what cards they’re originally dealt. And even the high-performers can face daunting challenges in sustaining the factors that put them in the front of the pack.

Here are examples from the current playbooks of some top performers, some of them long-standing policies, others still taking place. Also noted: caution lights in a few tricky policy areas.

Robust Economic Environments

Parents in top-performing states tend to earn more and have stable sources of income. Such families move less frequently throughout the school year, spend more on in- and out-of-school academic support, and own plenty more political capital to demand change.

Despite all that, there are still pitched battles in leading states over how to best use states’ wealth to more efficiently spend dwindling dollars and close achievement gaps between wealthier and poorer students.

Vermont’s $21,000 adjusted per-student average spending, one of the highest in the nation, is partly a result of small class sizes and an expansive voucher program that pays for its students to attend expensive private schools in surrounding states.

Amid a crushing budget deficit and rapidly aging population, the state last year started forcing its hundreds of districts to consolidate.

Connecticut, one of the wealthiest states in the nation, has attempted to close its achievement gap by racially and socioeconomically integrating its schools.

But Connecticut’s efforts came under attack last year by a state judge whose ruling described the state’s school funding formula as confusing and inconsistent; its standards as inadequate; and its teacher-evaluation system as ineffective. The state’s supreme court is expected to rule in the case soon.

Read more here.

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