During the past few weeks, I’ve been analyzing state comparisons on the 2013 NAEP Scores alongside the similar comparisons of state education funding and funding effort. That information tells a remarkable story about the powerful work our schools are doing in spite of difficult challenges.
Washington’s combined ranking for NAEP 4th and 8th grade math and reading is seventh in the nation. That’s not a one-year fluke, because we’ve been in the top ten for a while. When was the last time you heard a compliment from legislators, business leaders, or the media for that remarkable achievement? Let me take the opportunity to say “Way to go Washington educators!”
What is even more impressive is that we’ve accomplished that feat while being in the bottom 10 states in per student funding for more than a decade. The chart in Figure 1 shows Washington’s per student funding since 1995 compared with the nation and the average of the other top 10 NAEP performing states. It’s interesting to see that all three lines began in about the same place back in 1995 and the lines have continued to diverge. Talk about an achievement gap!
If one examines the gap in the performance between students living in poverty vs. those not in poverty, Washington’s 2013 data places us 33rd in the nation. More troubling, if you look at the change in that gap between 2003 and 2013, Washington ranks 45th in the nation. But even more troubling is the fact that the gap has grown during that decade in all four grade-subject testing combinations. Clearly, compared to other states, we are doing a terrible job in helping those students who most need the leg up that a good education could provide. They are the true victims of Washington’s inadequate funding of schools.
The chart in Figure 3 below would support that position. The ten states that are doing the best at closing the achievement gap have funding levels above the national average and about $3,000 more per student than Washington’s funding level.