US Chamber of Commerce Notes 4 Lacking Areas in Education

In a new report from the US Chamber of Commerce, four areas of learning are not up to par domestically when it comes to international competitiveness and career preparation: college-level courses, STEM education, basic reading, and math proficiency.

US News and World Report's Allie Bidwell reports that states nationwide have made improvements in K-12 systems, but are lagging behind others.

The fourth installment of "Leaders and Laggards" contains ratings for states on 11 different standards – academic achievement overall as well as for minority and low-income students, parental choice, technology, return on investment, and AP exam pass rates, among others – and compares states' progress to the first measured progress in 2007.

Michael McShane and Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute found that there was improvement in all states since 2007, but even the most improved state still had a long way to go.

"One of the most encouraging findings … is that every single state has seen some measure of improvement in academic performance," said Jock McKernan, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, during an event for the release of the report Thursday. "After we released the 2007 report, some leaders were so disappointed by their states' poor performance that they actually got right to work and started doing something about it."

Minnesota was among the highest-performing states, but its progress since 2007 scored the state only a C grade. One of the most troubling trends was that US students trail behind their international peers based on reading and math scores on the Programme for International Student Assessment along with passing rates on Advanced Placement exams in STEM subjects and foreign language exams.

Massachusetts had the highest number of graduating students, 16%, passing the AP exam in a STEM field. Mississippi had a paltry 1.22% of students who graduated and passed an AP STEM exam.

Passing rates for AP exams in subjects other than STEM fields were 28.8% in Connecticut to 4.4% in Mississippi. In a field like computer science, the highest AP passing rate was 1.4% in Maryland, and the lowest was 0% in Wyoming. The highest passing rate on AP foreign language exams was California at 9%.

There were not "overall" scores for the states, but eight states earned four As. Florida, Colorado, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Vermont earned four; Minnesota earned five; Massachusetts earned six, according to Stacy Teicher Khadaroo of The Christian Science Monitor.

To rate states on being internationally competitive, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) was compared to international benchmarks; passing rates on AP STEM exams were used; passing rates on foreign language exams were used.

The top 10 states earned an A in parental choice and spending on education (return on investment). Other measurement tools were: the quality of states' teaching force, fiscal responsibility, and students' access to high-quality computer-based instruction.

On the Friends of the US Chamber blog, Rick Hess adds a few more areas of assessment in the report: post secondary and workforce readiness and two improvement measures – overall NAEP achievement and overall NAEP achievement for low-income and minority students.

The four worst offenders in the "truth in advertising" measurement were Alabama, Georgia, Texas, and Michigan. This finding was based on disparities between state test results and the results from NAEP testing. This tampered reporting gave parents an unrealistic sense of how their children were performing in reading and math. Massachusetts, Missouri, and Tennessee did the best job of giving parents an honest picture of how their children were doing in school. Unfunded pension liabilities threaten states' ability to fund public schools. Keeping up payments for pensions was another measurement criterion.

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