Missouri 33rd in the nation in education preparedness

The state could be better at helping high-schoolers make the transition to college, the report says.
Tuesday, January 9, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 7:02 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

Missouri ranks 33rd when it comes to helping students make the transition from high school to college and ensuring their access to good jobs, a new national study says.

Education Week’s annual Quality Counts report examined the effects state education policies and socioeconomic factors have on success in adulthood and concluded that the road to achievement is rougher for students born and raised in Missouri than for students in many other states.

“When we examined the chance-for-success indicators for Missouri, we see an interesting pattern,” said Sterling Lloyd, a research associate in editorial projects at the Education Research Center, which developed the index. “Children in Missouri start off with some socioeconomic challenges — for example, the state has below-average family income and parent education.”

The study revealed that students’ professional success is influenced by a number of factors beyond the classroom, including pre-school opportunities, parental educational attainment and employment, family income and the median income of the community.

These factors, among others, affect a child’s chances for success and vary greatly from state to state, the report concluded.

“The chance for success index is based on 13 indicators that allow us to assess whether children get off to a good start in the early years, experience success in elementary and secondary school, and then move on to educational and economic success as adults,” Lloyd said.

Missouri scored higher than the national average on elementary readings scores, math and high school graduation rates, but fell short in terms of post-secondary, adult education attainment and annual income, the report said. Missouri children are disadvantaged before they start kindergarten, catch up somewhat in public schools, but then fall below national peers again once they leave high school.

Jim Morris, a spokesman for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said he considers the Quality Counts report as thorough and credible, although he disagrees with some of its conclusions.

“The metrics they have created for the latest analysis are very complex,” he said. “I think we will wait and see if this analysis proves to be useful in the future.”

Columbia Public Schools Superintendent Phyllis Chase labeled the ranking “a general statement” and reiterated the report’s recommendation that early-childhood education is a prime indicator of higher achievement.

“It’s a very general statement, and I think it’s unfortunate,” she said. “Columbia Public Schools conducted our own investigations and we found that early-childhood education is critical to a child’s success.”

Morris said the study confirms things they already know about Missouri K-12 education, and even though Missouri generally ranks below average on measures such as spending and teachers’ salaries, Missouri students usually perform above the national average on state tests and on exams such as the American College Test.

He said that in 2005, the State Board of Education voted to raise the minimum high school graduation requirements for students in Missouri public schools effective 2010.

The new requirements require all students to take more core academic classes in high school and should provide a stronger college preparation foundation for Missouri students who began high school as freshmen this year, Morris said.

He said Missouri also supports A+ Schools Program, which provides free community college tuition to students from participating high schools who graduate with good attendance.

“This program requires schools to eliminate general-track classes and help more students graduate who are prepared for continuing education,” he said. “It also requires students to meet specific performance criteria in high school. In a nutshell, this is an incentive program for high schools to adopt more rigorous curriculum and prepare more students for post-secondary education.”

Morris also said that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Department of Higher Education and the Department of Economic Development have been working together since last year to improve the transitions between levels of education and between education and the work force.

“One of the measures used in the Quality Counts analysis is participation in and performance on Advanced Placement exams,” he said. “Although AP participation is not as high in Missouri as some states, the number of schools and students taking part has been increasing steadily over the past decade. When schools offer AP courses and more students take them, it creates a more challenging academic climate that will encourage students to be better prepared for college.”

The study suggested that a child educated in Virginia is more likely to experience academic and financial success as an adult than a child in any other state. New Mexico ranked the lowest in the report.

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