From the Editor

Quality Counts 2011

Education Week released Quality Counts 2011, its annual report that evaluates states' educational performance and policymaking. Quality Counts 2011: Uncertain Forecast-Education Adjusts to a New Economic Reality, the 15th edition of the annual report, issues summative scores and letter grades scores for the nation and the individual states. These grades incorporate the most recent information available from all six categories that make up Quality Counts' full policy-and-performance framework. The nation receives a C when graded across the six distinct areas of policy and performance tracked by Quality Counts. For the third year in a row, Maryland ranks first in the nation, earning a B-plus, and posting a total score of 87.6 points. New York ranks second and Massachusetts third, each earning a grade of B. At the other end of the rankings, the District of Columbia, Nebraska, and South Dakota received grades of D-plus. A majority of states fell somewhere in the middle of the grading curve, with 36 states earning grades between a C-minus and a C-plus.

The K-12 Achievement Index evaluates how well a state's students perform compared with those in the top-ranked state on 18 separate categories. The index takes into account three performance-based categories: current state performance, improvements over time, and equity as measured by poverty-based achievement gaps. Each of these achievement outcomes is measured in terms of both current performance levels and changes over time. The average grade for the nation is a D-plus, marking little change since 2008. The top-achieving state in 2011 is Massachusetts, which earned a grade of B, followed closely by Maryland and New Jersey, each with a B-minus. At the other end of the Achievement Index, four states-Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, and West Virginia-and the District of Columbia received grades of F.

Quality Counts 2011 also examines the impact of broader economic conditions on the schools. This year, the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center conducted a special survey to assess the state of public education finances, and explore some of the state-level responses to the recession. The report concludes that "while states overall launched few large-scale education policy changes as a result of the economic crisis, many initiated modest policy changes offering local school systems greater flexibility to meet those economic challenges. Changes include loosening the reins on the eligible uses of education aid previously reserved for specific programs or student populations, an approach taken by 21 states since the recession began; and, in the case of 10 states, allowing greater flexibility on the length of the school year, week, or day."

Quality Counts includes two overview pieces on the economic situation and outlook. Educators Regroup in Recession's Aftermath  does a great job of recapping the fiscal crisis. Much of the territory covered will be familiar to anyone who has tracked this issue closely (I've reported on a lot of the data over the past 18 months), but the article pulls it all together, highlighting the overarching themes and challenges.  Personnel Costs Prove Tough to Contain  lays out some of the problems states face with respect to pension shortfalls and pay scales.