Maryland officials are understandably proud of Education
Week's recent ranking of the state's K-12 public education system as
the best in the country. But before this ranking becomes the rationale
for state officials to curtail education spending or the State Department
of Education to act with less urgency, a closer examination of the
evidence is warranted. Is Maryland really No. 1?
To begin with, there is reason to doubt the objectivity of much of
the data underlying the Education Week rankings because they rely on
It would seem reasonable that Maryland, with the highest household
income in the country, would post the highest achievement. But the
National Assessment of Education Progress, created to measure and compare
the education performance of all states, tells a different story.
While Maryland's performance on the NAEP has improved in recent years,
its rankings on the 2007 NAEP reading and math fall solidly in the
middle tier of states. Hardly No. 1.
There are also large discrepancies between Maryland
students' scores on the national NAEP test and those on the Maryland
State Assessment tests.
On fourth-grade reading, for example, 86 percent of Maryland students score proficient
or above on the state test. Yet only one-third of Maryland fourth-graders meet
the proficiency level according to NAEP. How rigorous are Maryland's tests?
If one looks at the percentage of our high school graduates who go to college,
Maryland ranks 14th.
And finally, on the SAT, Maryland's scores have declined in both math and reading
over the last three years as compared with the national average.
Given these data, it seems reasonable to conclude that Maryland is a long way
from No. 1. If, on examination of the data, the State Board of Education decides
the state is falling short, the public needs to know what it will take to get
us there and the legislature needs to know how much it will cost.
Those are the questions. Maryland deserves answers.
Robert C. Embry Jr. is president of the Abell Foundation and former president
of the Baltimore Board of School Commissioners and the Maryland State Board of