Authored for ALEC.
Dr. Matthew Ladner recently joined Jami Lund of the Washington Freedom Foundation’s “Freedom Daily” to talk about the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) annual Report Card on American Education. Dr. Ladner, who co-authored the report, was formerly the top policy advisor on education to Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Washington State received an overall grade of “C” on the report for its policies in six areas: state academic standards, charter school laws, home-school regulations, private school choice programs, overall teacher quality and policies, and digital learning opportunities.
Washington’s grade equated to mediocre performance in education policy, but an improvement over past years. As Dr. Ladner observed, the grade increased from a “C-” in 2012. Additionally, test scores have increased as well. The state’s students score 8th in the nation on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), up from 25th in in 2011. (Unfortunately, the 2011 score represented a drop from 16th in 2009, so successes can be fleeting.)
Part of the reason for that performance is that the state’s tests tend to correlate to some degree with the difficulty of NAEP examinations. Washington received its highest individual grade, a “B,” in the area of academic standards as a result. In some other states, students could continue moving forward simply by guessing through test answers. Neighboring Idaho, for instance, received a “D” on academic standards, and placed 33rd on 2013 NAEP results.
Where Washington performed most poorly was in the area of private school choice. The two most common methods of providing choices are voucher programs, which provide families assistance to attend private schools; and tax credit scholarship programs, which provide tax credits for contributions given to various educational funds. Washington provides neither option, which means that low-income families are left to accept whatever opportunities they can afford.
Despite performing well comparable to other states, students are still lagging internationally, as Dr. Ladner points out. Students north of the border are completely surpassing Washington’s students on international test results. While Canadian students placed 15th globally in mathematics on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), the United States’ students placed 45th, right after the Slovak Republic.
Washington is doing some things well and so earns a mediocre grade nationally. However, it is failing to offer all of the possible options to disadvantaged families, and like many states, its students are not performing comparably to those living in similarly-positioned countries.