USA Weekend map helps make my point

An interesting article about the increasing racial diversity of the US population ran in today’s USA Weekend. The article includes some color-coded maps that show the racial mix in most states and counties has become quite diverse over the past three decades.

Most notably, if you look at the large 2010 map, you will see that Kentucky today is one of the least racially diverse states in the nation. Few of our counties on this map have a color code other than white or very light blue, which shows the lowest level of diversity.

From the standpoint of evaluating how our schools perform compared to other states, the USA Weekend map is particularly pertinent. Here’s why.

Notable racial achievement gaps continue to be found in every state and whites generally outscore the other races by very notable amounts. Thus, a state like Kentucky that has a large number of whites gets an important, and unearned, advantage whenever a ranking system only looks at overall average student scores in the various states. That holds true whether we are talking about the ACT college entrance test or the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). If a ranking scheme only considers overall scores for all students, that scheme can create very inaccurate pictures of the real story.

This is why the Bluegrass Institute has been critical of a number of state ranking schemes that focus exclusively or almost exclusively on overall state average scores.

The list of such overly simplistic reports falling in this category include the recent “Quality Counts” report from Education Week, UK’s Center for Business and Economic Research’s “Issue Brief: Kentucky Ranks 33rd on Education Index,” Students First’s “State of Education, State Policy Report Card 2013,” a recent state ranking from the liberally oriented Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence’s latest update to their “Top 20 by 2020, 2012 Update” and even the conservatively oriented Education Next’s article, “Is the U.S. Catching Up?

Liberal, conservative or somewhere in between, a ton of education researchers don’t know as much as USA Weekend just told you about the demographic upheaval going on in the US, and the research these apparently unbriefed researchers provide ignores facts that simply cannot be ignored if we really want to know how education is progressing in Kentucky and around the nation.

So, here’s a little credibility test you can simply apply to any state ranking system you see. If it only looks at overall scores for all students in each state, it will provide you with an inflated picture for Kentucky.

And, here is another map for you to chew on. As soon as we break the NAEP eighth grade math data down by race and see how Kentucky’s whites stand up to their counterparts around the nation, you’ll begin to understand why reports that claim Kentucky ranks 10th – or even around 35th – for education simply cannot be right. When you add the fact that 84 percent of Kentucky’s kids are white, that just makes this map’s message more disturbing.