We’re #1! (at educating white kids)

Gov. Tim Walz put out a press release last week touting Minnesota’s performance in a national ranking of states dealing with the pandemic. The lapdog Minnesota press dutifully put the story on the front page. From the Walz press release:

Today POLITICO ranked Minnesota in the top five states for COVID-19 response in a national scorecard released on Wednesday. POLITICO’s State Pandemic Scorecard ranks how states have fared during the pandemic using data and policy outcomes in four categories: health, economy, social well-being, and education. Minnesota performed well in all four rankings and placed fifth in the country overall.

In fact, Minnesota did not perform well in all four rankings, unless the definition of performing well is ranking in the bottom half of states. Minnesota received a 48/100 for the economy and a 50/100 for social well-being, which included the rise in violent crime. As with many national rankings, Minnesota’s high education scores propelled our state to the top of POLITCO’s list, ignoring our glaring achievement gap.

There was no press release and no stories about a different national ranking from WalletHub also released last week that placed Minnesota an abysmal 40/50 in a list of the safest states during the COVID-19 pandemic. WalletHub measured five metrics: rate of COVID-19 transmission, positive testing, hospitalizations and death, and vaccination rates.

In what is likely to be his main re-election message, Walz frequently claims he balanced the interests of public health with the economy and social welfare while dealing with the pandemic.

“In every decision we made throughout this pandemic, we followed the science, listened to the medical experts, and worked hard to keep all aspects of our response — including health outcomes, the economy, education, and social implications — strong,” said Governor Tim Walz. “I am grateful to everyone who has a hand in making our state a leader in the nation for our pandemic response. We will continue to do everything we can to tackle this pandemic and keep people safe, while keeping Minnesota’s economy running strong, businesses thriving, and kids in school.”

As usual, the devil is in the details, and the data from these two national rankings spoils Walz’s narrative about balance during the pandemic.

The POLITICO ranking is full of bad science and caveats. They rank Minnesota 13/50 in education, but what did they measure? There is no current national data for comparing the states since the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test was cancelled due to the pandemic. Instead, POLITICO asked three private testing services to share their results: Curriculum Associates, Renaissance, and NWEA.

Since POLITICO did not provide state-level data (red flag!), I assume Minnesota’s data came from NWEA, because many Minnesota districts use this tool. This is problematic because the NWEA is not a norm-referenced test based on standards. It’s a “leveling test” that adjusts as the student is taking it to help teachers assess strengths and weaknesses. No psychometrician worth his salt would ever use a test like the NWEA to compare schools or districts, let alone states.

Another glaring weakness of the education metric is that it doesn’t provide disaggregated data based on race or poverty level. If most of the students in the NWEA database were from white suburban districts, it’s no surprise Minnesota scored high in education. As in many national rankings, the education score, without accounting for achievement gap issues, pushed Minnesota to the top. To quote the great Clark Griswold: “That’s nothing to be proud of, Rusty.”

When it comes to social well-being, POLITICO ranked the states on three metrics: food insecurity, ability to afford household expenses, and violent crime. Minnesota scored 50/100 in this category and it’s obvious that our violent crime rates are the reason for this low score. There was no mention of violent crime rates in the Walz press release.

For the economy, Minnesota scored 48/100 from POLITICO based on three metrics: GDP by state, job creation, and unemployment rate. That puts our state in the bottom half of the country, despite Walz’s rhetoric about balancing the economy with public health.

Regarding public health, Minnesota did much better in the POLITICO survey, based mostly on our low COVID deaths per capita since the beginning of the pandemic. But why did we fare so poorly in WalletHub’s safest states survey?

It turns out WalletHub used a “what have you done for me lately” metric, judging states on their current COVID-19 statistics instead of looking at the entire pandemic. At the moment, Minnesota is performing in the bottom ten states when it comes to COVID deaths, hospitalizations, transmission and vaccinations.

All governors tout national rankings when their state does well and ignores rankings when they don’t. For every ranking, Minnesotans need to look at what got measured and make their own judgement based on data, not spin from a press release. In a normal world, Minnesota journalists would provide research, data and context for each national ranking. In lieu of that, stick with AmericanExperiment.org.