[Poll] New Mexicans give state's school worst marks in country while Martinez proclaims success

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A new poll by the non-partisan Gallup research firm found that New Mexicans rate our state’s education system among the worst in the nation, despite Governor Martinez’s insistence that her education reforms are working and supported by New Mexicans.

In her first campaign ad of the 2014 election (see here), released just yesterday, Martinez proclaimed how her plans to retain and brand third graders with bad reading scores were working to improve our education system.

Gallup’s poll indicates that just 41% of state residents rate our schools positively while just 51% believe they prepare our students for jobs.  Martinez ran on a platform to improve our schools but New Mexicans don’t seem to believe her proposals to add more testing, larger class sizes and fewer educators are doing that.

From the Gallup release:


April 9, 2014, by Susan Sorenson and Stephanie Kafka

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Nearly nine in 10 North Dakotans rate the quality of their state’s public K-12 education as excellent or good — the highest ratings nationwide. Public school systems in Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, and South Dakota trail behind North Dakota closely, with at least 80% of residents rating their states’ schools this highly.

States Where Residents Most Frequently Rate Quality of Education as Excellent or GoodStates Where Residents Most least Rate Quality of Education as Excellent or Good

The results are based on a special 50-state Gallup poll conducted June-December 2013, including interviews with at least 600 residents in every state. This poll allows Gallup for the first time to report Americans’ perceptions of schools at the state level.

North Dakota has topped several of Gallup’s recent state-by-state measures, including well-beingtrust in state government, and job creation, to name a few. The state’s strong performance on these and other measures is largely fueled by its newfound oil wealth and resulting economic boom, which also helped to fund record school spending in 2013. Residents’ positive perceptions about school quality may reflect this investment in education as well as a general sense of optimism about the state’s overall direction.

More than 1,000 miles to the south and west, half as many residents in Nevada (42%) and New Mexico (41%) rate their public schools as excellent or good, the lowest scores in the U.S. However, residents in Illinois, Hawaii, and Louisiana took a similarly dim view of their own schools, with less than 50% ranking them as excellent or good.

Respondents likely consider several factors when rating school quality in their states, including student outcomes. U.S. Department of Education data for 2010-2011 show that while eight of the top states in Gallup’s measure had graduation rates of 80% or higher, four of the lowest-ranking schools in Gallup’s measure — New Mexico, Nevada, Louisiana, and Oregon — fell into the bottom 20% of states with the lowest graduation rates in the U.S.

States With Top School Quality Ratings Also Highest in Preparing Pupils for Work

Residents in states that gave the highest rankings to the quality of their public schools were also the most likely to say these schools are preparing students for success in the workplace. Though in a slightly different order than they appeared in the quality rankings, each of the same top states received a 70% or higher rating on the student preparation question. The consistency in ratings of quality and student workforce preparedness suggests that residents may equate a quality education with one that prepares young people well for the workforce.

States Where Residents Most Frequently Say Public School System Prepares Students for Success in WorkplaceStates Where Residents Most least Say Public School System Prepares Students for Success in Workplace

In five of the states dominating the top quality and student preparedness rankings, including both Dakotas, Iowa, Nebraska, and Wyoming, unemployment rates in 2013 were under 5% — some of the lowest seen in the U.S. Residents in these states might be more likely to see students as prepared for success in the workplace because people in general have a relatively easier time finding employment in these job markets. By contrast, five of the bottom-ranking states had unemployment rates of 7% or higher.

Bottom Line

The different ratings of school quality across the U.S. may reflect, in part, the varying economic realities of each state. Because this is the first time Gallup has measured these data, it is not known how ratings of education by state were affected by the economic downturn and improving economy since then. But with most of K-12 education dollars coming from local and state budgets, spending on public schools is largely tethered to a state’s economic highs and lows. Therefore it is likely that states in good economic shape can afford to spend more to keep class sizes small, attract talented teachers with better pay, and maintain and improve their facilities, while schools in struggling state economies contend with overcrowded classrooms and deteriorating infrastructure, conditions that could lead to lower perceptions of quality.

Still, funding is just one of many interconnecting elements that combine to make a school system successful. Residents of the group of states appearing at the top of both of Gallup’s rankings seem to feel that their schools have found a winning formula of providing a quality education that prepares students for a successful career. As leaders struggle to come up with ways to make the nation’s education system more competitive on a global stage, a closer look at the schools that top Gallup’s quality and preparedness rankings may yield insights and best practices that other states can adopt to boost their own performance.

For insights about what leaders can do to improve engagement and student achievement in their schools, read Gallup’s State of America’s Schools: The Path to Winning Again in Education report.