Quality Rankings of Education in the Fifty States
Clayson, Ph.D., Director
Center for Applied Economic Research
This report looks at the quality of Montana's schools through several different methods. Montana has a school system with poor inputs, but with generally good outputs. This is achieved by a relatively efficient system. The positive outputs of the state education system, however, have not manifested themselves in increased positions that will attract college graduates or in corresponding incomes.
Recently, the Thomas Fordham Foundation released a study to the media ranking the states on the basis of "teacher quality". Montana ranked dead last out of 49 states. The report elicited the expected negative reaction from educators within Montana.
There are numerous ways that education quality can be evaluated. The following table outlines a number of these.
Measures of Educational Quality
|Teacher Quality||Education Input||Education Output||Education Social Impact||Education Efficiency|
|States Missing Data|
In the social sciences, a term like "quality" is referred to as a hypothetical construct. "Quality" is not something that can be measured like the length of a table or the weight of a car. "Quality" must be inferred from other measurements that are related to what people generally mean by "quality".
Because of the inference of relationships, different measurements of "quality" can be created which reflect a number of different viewpoints, including those that are political. Therefore, it is imperative when judging the results of these studies to know how "quality" was defined in terms of how it was measured.
The rankings in the above table were calculated using the following data.
This is the result of the recent Thomas Fordham Foundation study. Teacher "quality" was measured by how the:
- States punish or reward teachers and administrators for student achievement,
- Conducts checks on teachers' backgrounds and college course work, and
- How much power the state gives for individual schools to hire and fire teachers.
Four measurements were standardized and then averaged for this variable:
- Average teacher salaries,
- Pupil/teacher ratios,
- Education cost per student, and
- The Thomas Fordham results.
Output was calculated by using the standardized average of:
of 4th graders at or above grade level as measured on NAEP tests on
- Reading, and
- Mean ACT score for the state.
Education Social Impact
The measurement is problematic. In this case it was simply measured by using the standardized average of three measures:
- Per capita income,
- Percent of population with college degrees, and
- The average number of books checked out of libraries per capita.
This measurement is basically the "bang-per-buck" of education. It is a measurement that businesses would use if they were measuring efficiency. It was calculated by using the standardized average of the cost per student per unit measured output. Three measures were used:
- The cost per student per percent of reading above or at 4th grade level,
- The cost per student per percent of math above or at 4th grade level, and
- The cost 
The median family income is positively related to all of the measures noted above. In other words, states that have higher family incomes have better schools on all measures. This is true even for efficiency, partially dispelling the notion that efficiency is simply a statistical artifact created by the fact that any education program is better than none.
There is, however, no relationship between the educational inputs and educational outputs. This conclusion is not counterintuitive. There is, in fact, almost a negative correlation between the amount of money spent historically on education in America and almost any measure of achievement (except perhaps, psychosocial benefits).
Another indicator that there is little relationship between inputs and outputs is found in the relationship between minorities and educational achievement. States that have a higher minority population percentage have, on average, lower educational outcomes as measured by standardized tests. In the above data, there is a strong negative relationship between the percentage of minorities in a state and the educational output. There is, however, no relationship between minority percentage and educational inputs.
There is also no significant relationship between educational efficiency and educational output. This is not unexpected since efficiency is a function of monetary input. There is a strong relationship between education efficiency and education's social impact. This finding is, however, not related to monetary input but to population density. States with lower population density generally do better with the resources they have.
It is instructive to compare Montana's ranking with related states.
Rankings of Selected States Compared with Montana
These states were selected for several reasons:
- All have relatively small populations; none are over four times as large as Montana in population,
- All (with the possible exception of Utah) are considered to be rural states,
- North Dakota and Wyoming are Montana neighbors,
- Utah has the highest efficiency rating, and
- Iowa had the highest combined ACT and SAT scores in the nation the year the data was collected.
Whereas the Thomas Fordham Foundation's study puts Montana dead last, it is basically a measure of the local control of education. Other measures give a mixed picture. In the latest comparative data (generally 1996-97), Montana's educational inputs were not impressive.
|Teacher's average salary||45|
the other hand, educational outputs were more positive.
|Reading, grade 4||6|
|Math, grade 4||8|
|Mean ACT score||7|
The social impacts of education are negative to mixed.
|Per capita income||47|
|Per cent with college degrees||25|
|Library books in circ/capita||31|
In summary, Montana has a school system with poor inputs, but with generally good outputs. This is achieved by a relatively efficient system and the fact that, fortunately for Montana, there is little relationship between monetary inputs and measurable outputs. The positive outputs of the state education system, however, have not manifested themselves in increased positions that will attract college graduates or in corresponding incomes.
 Data came from the last national survey readily available, which was 1997.
 SAT was not used. Students most likely to go to the most prestigious colleges are more likely to take the SAT. Consequently, a state that has few students going on to the higher college levels can have higher scores, ironically because they don't produce many higher quality students.
 For example, State A and State B both spend $5000/student/year. However, the average ACT in State A was 21 and the average ACT in State B was 18. State A is more efficient. It costs $238 per student in this state to produce one ACT point. In State B it costs $278.