For the second year in a row, Maryland schools were ranked No. 1 among states in the nation for school achievement and educational policies by a respected trade publication.
Education Week gave Maryland a B-plus, far above the national average of a C. New York ranked second and Massachusetts third in the survey; Nevada, Nebraska and the District of Columbia did particularly poorly. The survey looks at numerous factors, including student achievement on national tests, how well schools are financed, what state policies are in place and the overall chances a child has of success in school while living in a particular state.
"Maryland is the place to live if you want your child to get a high-quality education. We are serious about preparing students for the future," said state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick. While Grasmick was pleased, she said, the state "cannot rest on its laurels. We can't act like we have got it all licked. We haven't."
Maryland does not do as well on several other important factors now being considered by the Obama administration in the competition among states who want federal stimulus funds called Race to the Top. Specifically, Maryland has a weak charter school law, gives tenure to teachers in only two years and does not consider student achievement data when evaluating teachers. Grasmick has said she will seek changes in those areas from the legislature and the state school board in the coming months.
She said Wednesday that other states are moving ahead quickly on several fronts and that Maryland should too, but not just to "chase the money." (Maryland could get as much as $250 million in Race to the Top funds.) "It is really about what is the next step in our large reform effort so that Maryland will remain on top," Grasmick said.
Matthew Joseph, executive director of Advocates for Children and Youth, a group that lobbies on children's and family issues, agreed with Grasmick and said the state's curriculum standards are far too low. "If you stay the course, you are not going to get this federal money and address some of these issues," he said.
Education Week gave Maryland particularly high grades for its early childhood education and its standards, testing and school accountability system. Grasmick said the improvements that have been made in the past are due in part to the fact that the state superintendent is somewhat insulated from politics, which allows her to carry forward with reforms that aren't always popular but are necessary.
In addition, she said, because the state is divided into relatively large school districts, policies and standards are more uniformly adopted across the state. Maryland has 24 districts compared to about 500 in Pennsylvania.
However, the state came in No. 50 in the state rankings when Education Week looked at the gap in math achievement between poor students and higher-income students. And a poor eighth-grader in Maryland is less likely to have an experienced math teacher than in most other states. On the other hand, the state ranks first in the percentage of juniors and seniors passing math Advanced Placement tests.
Education Week said the analysis of gaps in math achievement was not considered in the ranking.
Gov. Martin O'Malley said in a statement released Wednesday night that the investment in education made over the past decade was paying off.
"Even during these difficult economic times, we've continued to fully fund efforts to build new, state-of-the-art classrooms, integrate curriculum across all grade levels, and hire and retain the nation's best educators," he said.