A Miracle in the Mid-Atlantic
The National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, is often called “the nation’s report card.” Advocates sometimes use the results of the main NAEP tests to argue for their policy agendas. One example (among many) is when supporters of the so-called “Florida Formula,” a battery of market-based reforms that went into effect throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s and are currently spreading throughout the nation, make their case primarily on Florida’s NAEP performance. The basic logic is that average test scores increased during this time period, and thus whatever Florida did must have worked, and should be exported en masse to other states.
However, since 2003, the state that has brought home the most proverbial A’s on the nation’s report card is not Florida. It is Maryland. In fact, the increase in math and reading performance among fourth and eighth graders in the state’s public schools can only be called the “Maryland Miracle.”
There’s too much at stake for policy makers to waste time worrying about trivial details, such as policy analysis. Whatever laws and practices were in place in Maryland during this time period are clearly responsible for the Miracle. They should serve as a model for the nation.
But, first, let’s take a quick look at the most recent results. The four simple graphs below present the trend in average NAEP scores between 2003 and 2011, by grade/subject, for public school students in Maryland (blue lines) versus the U.S. overall (red lines).
Between 2003 and 2011, average scores in Maryland increased between 10 and 14 scale score points in all four subject/grade combinations. To put this in perspective, a common shortcut for interpreting NAEP scores is to regard ten points as equivalent to one grade level. So, on all four exams, Maryland fourth and eighth graders in 2011 scored at least a whole school year ahead their 2003 predecessors.
This stunning increase was more than double of that of students nationwide (and double that of Florida’s students as well). Moreover, if we go back even further – to the early 1990s – Maryland’s NAEP scores have risen more quickly than any other state’s.
How did Maryland accomplish this Miracle? We might call it the “Maryland Formula.” It includes:
- A small (and unionized) charter school sector: Although the state does not impose any caps on the number of charter schools that can operate, market share in Maryland remains among the lowest of any states that allow charters. Between 2003 and 2011, no more than a few dozen of these schools operated in the state, serving only a tiny proportion of its students. In addition, during this time, all these schools were unionized.
- Virtual absence of “market-based” teacher quality reforms: Between 2003 and 2011, Maryland’s teacher-related policies exemplified what is sometimes called the “traditional” model. For example, the state did not require annual teacher evaluations or the use of evidence of “student learning” in tenure and layoff decisions. In fact, every year between 2007 and 2011, when they started publishing rankings, the National Council on Teacher Quality awarded Maryland either a D or D- for its teacher quality policies.
- High per-pupil spending: During the 2010-11 school year, Maryland spent almost $14,000 per pupil, the 10th highest amount in the U.S.
- Strong collective bargaining for teachers. Maryland is one of roughly 30 states that require districts to bargain collectively with public school teachers. The Fordham Institute characterized the scope of bargaining as “stronger than most” other states’. And, again, even Maryland charter school teachers are unionized.
- High (and increasing) teacher salaries. The average teacher salary in Maryland is among the top 10 highest in the U.S. Between 2002 and 2012, the mean teacher salary increased over 30 percent, or about three percent adjusted for inflation, both of which are the 11th highest state increases in the U.S. during this time.
According to NAEP, this particular configuration of policies has been a smashing success for Maryland.
It is time for other states to recognize these incredible results and begin (or continue) implementing the Maryland Formula. This includes: shrinking/unionizing charter sectors; spending more money; expanding the scope of teacher collective bargaining; and abandoning all attempts to design and implement new teacher evaluations or accountability systems, no matter how promising they might be.
The data hath spoken. All that remains is for us to listen.
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