Which States Schools Have the Best Results? It's Complicated.

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Jan. 8 2013 11:19 AM

Which States Schools Have the Best Results? It's Complicated.

I wrote yesterday about Michelle Rhee's effort to grade state-by-state education policy, which is in an interesting way based 100 percent on comformity to Students First's advocacy agenda and not at all on measured results. It's interesting to ask, for comparison's sake, where students are actually learning the most. Unfortunately, that's a bit hard to summarize in a single map but we can look at 8th-grade reading NAEP scores:

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The yellow states are average, the salmon ones are below average, and the green ones are above average. You see here basically a regional pattern, but with the unusual fact that California is part of "the south" for these purposes and that New York and Michigan stand out as bad compared to their regional peers.

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But as we know there are huge state-to-state demographic differences that we may want to consider. So here's a look at just African-American students:

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Suddenly a lot of midwestern states look worse than before but California and especially Texas look a lot better. There's a strong regional component to below-average performance here (except for Wisconsin) but the above-average performance unites the mid-Atlantic with Texas and Colorado.

Now Latinos:

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Texas, again, is looking very solid in terms of minority education this time joined by Florida. California is doing terribly which is sad in light of the huge Latino population there.

Here's low-income kids:

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Very strong regional pattern here where low-income students seem to do the best in the states where the minority share of the low-income population is the lowest.

And here's just white people:

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The urbanized northeast really stands out for excellence here and the other big states (California, Texas, Florida, Illinois) are all average.

I don't have a big policy takeaway from this, other than that when you look at the numbers carefully Texas does better and California does worse than a lot of people assume. But whatever state-to-state variance there is in policy is swamped in terms of overall results by demographics. New Hampshire doesn't have any particularly noteworthy policies in place but it does have a low poverty rate and tons of white people, and its kids have solid scores on average.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.