students taking test
Where Does Arizona’s K-12 Education System Rank Nationally?

April 20, 2022

By John Huppenthal |

Mainstream media loves to disparage Arizona’s kindergarten through 12th grade education system. State rankings are often the source of this disparagement, invariably ranking Arizona 47th, 48th, or 49th.

Over the past year, U.S. News and World Report ranked New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Connecticut as the top education states in the nation, first through third, respectively. Next, WalletHub ranked these same three states as the top three states in the nation. Then, along comes an organization called Scholaroo also ranking Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Connecticut as the top three K-12 education states in the nation.

They all agree on the three states with the top rankings, but where do they rank Arizona? They rank Arizona respectively, 47th, 48th, and 50th. That would seem pretty definitive.

But do these three states really have better schools than Arizona? Both U.S. News and WalletHub seem to think so . But is their ranking based on science? Are they correct? Are they completely out of whack? Let’s check their analysis.

The U.S. Department of Education performs the National Assessment of Educational Progress, spending over $100 million per year to measure the performance of the U.S. K-12 system. The National Assessment is based on a random sample of over 3,000 students in each state. This sample is pulled once every two years.

U.S. News, WalletHub, and Scholaroo each make a fundamental error in the way they compare states. Because Connecticut is 75% White and 42% college educated, they are comparing the test results of a White student with college educated parents with a minority student from Arizona with immigrant parents. That’s not science. That’s a joke.

We can use the National Assessment data to make an apples-to-apples comparison. 

Here are is the data for 8th grade math scores of Blacks and Hispanics for Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Arizona:

8th Grade Math ScoresArizonaMassachusettsConnecticutNew Jersey
Blacks267267256266
Hispanics269269263269

Arizona 8th grade math scores for Blacks and Hispanics (42% of our K-12 student population) are equal to or greater than all these states considered top three states by WalletHub and U.S. News

In other words, if test scores are your measure, Arizona’s schools are among the very best in the country in educating Blacks and Hispanics.

These are media companies. It’s not unusual to find them to be short on scientific standing. When you dig in to find out why the media companies get it so wrong, you find that the source of their error is that they are comparing a low-income Hispanic Arizona student with a high-income east coast White student and pretending that you can make a conclusion from that comparison about the quality of schools. No reputable researcher believes that. Each state has a different percentage of Hispanic, Black, and White students.

We can expand this 8th grade math comparison to all 50 states. When we do, we find that Arizona Blacks rank 3rd, only a point away from first. Only two other states have 8th grade test scores for Blacks higher than Arizona. Arizona Asians rank 5th, Arizona Hispanics rank 14th, and Arizona Whites rank 6th.

Race is only one factor you can adjust for. Several years ago, the Urban Institute did a more comprehensive regression analysis which also took into account parent’s education and family income as well as race. In that ranking, Arizona ranked 13th in the nation. Even that analysis is suspect. Arizona ranks 4th in the nation in the percentage of foreign-born Hispanics. The Urban Institute’s analysis did not separate foreign-born and native-born Hispanics and as a result, ranked Arizona lower than it might otherwise have been.

We know that Arizona schools, strengthened by the nation’s most competitive school environment for 30 years, rank much higher than the mainstream media would let us know. And perhaps higher than the leftist think-tanks want to admit.

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