What the U.S. News ranking doesn’t show regarding MN education
U.S. News & World Report recently released new rankings that identified Minnesota as the second best state in America. But a closer look at the ranking details suggests not all is as rosy as it appears.
The rankings are constructed from a number of components, including “Education,” on which Minnesota ranks 17th. Education is made up of two categories — “Higher Education” (Minnesota ranks 18th) and “PreK-12” (Minnesota also ranks 18th).
The “Higher Education” rankings include the following measures.
2-Year College Graduation Rate
This measure tracks the share of students attending public institutions who complete a two-year degree program within three years, or 150% of the normal time. Degrees can include certificate programs or the equivalent, and data is collected from the National Center for Education Statistics for the 2016 cohort.
On this measure, Minnesota ranks 18th.
4-Year College Graduation Rate
This measure tracks the share of undergraduate students at public institutions who receive a bachelor’s degree or equivalent four-year college degree within six years, or 150% of the normal time of study. The national average was about 62%. The data on timely completion comes from the National Center for Education Statistics for the 2013 cohort.
On this measure, Minnesota ranks 20th.
Low Debt at Graduation
The debt that college graduates carry with them is a measure of how much financial support, both public and private, is available for students pursuing higher education. In this case, the lesser the debt that graduates of four-year colleges carry, the higher the state ranks. Data is based on average debt for students from the class of 2019, according to The Institute for College Access and Success.
On this measure, Minnesota ranks 41st.
The achievement of college degrees in any state is a measure of how well the educational system has prepared its citizenry for advanced study beyond high school and enabled students to succeed. This metric, from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey, measures the share of people 25 and older in a state who have an associate degree or higher.
On this measure, Minnesota ranks third.
Tuition and Fees
This is a measure of the average college tuition and fees required of in-state students at public four-year institutions according to U.S. Department of Education Statistics from the 2018-2019 school year. The lower the cost of a state-sponsored college education, the higher the state ranks for this metric.
On this measure, Minnesota ranks 39th.
The “PreK-12” rankings include the following measures.
The ACT, a college-readiness test that colleges consider in admitting students, measures student achievement in English, math, reading and science.
The SAT assesses students in math and evidence-based reading and writing. This metric measures the approximate percentage of high school graduates from the class of 2019 who have passed the SAT, the ACT or both.
On this measure, Minnesota ranks 29th.
High School Graduation Rate
To have a full picture of any state’s success in graduating students from public high school, a longitudinal look at a graduating class, starting with students who enter the ninth grade and counting how many graduate from the 12th grade, is necessary. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Iowa led the nation in high school graduation for the class of 2018 cohort, with 91.4% of the state’s public high-schoolers obtaining diplomas. The national average was 85.3%.
On this measure, Minnesota ranks 34th.
NAEP Math Scores
Sampled students in the eighth grade across the country are tested for math and reading proficiency on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which the U.S. Department of Education bills as The Nation’s Report Card. The scores on the math test range from 0 to 500. Data for this metric is from 2019.
On this measure, Minnesota ranks third.
But as I explain in my education report, education rankings like U.S. News include average scores on NAEP tests, which ignore student heterogeneity. This omission skews the rankings in favor of states with fewer socioeconomically challenged students. So, a state like Minnesota whose student body is nearly 65 percent white could do better on NAEP score rankings because of its socioeconomic composition. We see this play out in a comparison between Minnesota and Mississippi, where its black and Hispanic students outperform Minnesota black and Hispanic students in both fourth-grade and eighth-grade math. Equally important, Mississippi’s NAEP test scores for fourth- and eighth-grade black students have been scaling up over the years, compared to Minnesota’s declining scores and inconsistent growth among its fourth- and eighth-grade black students. In Texas, its black, Hispanic and Asian/Pacific Islander students outperform Minnesota’s black, Hispanic and Asian/Pacific Islander students in both fourth- and eighth-grade math.
NAEP Reading Scores
The Nation’s Report Card also measures reading proficiency among eighth-graders, with scores ranging from 0 to 500. Data for this metric is from 2019. Students in Massachusetts scored best, averaging 273 compared to the average national score of 263.
On this measure, Minnesota ranks 17th.
See my explanation under NAEP Math Scores on how average NAEP scores skew rankings because student diversity is not accounted for. Mississippi black and Hispanic students outperform Minnesota black and Hispanic students in both fourth- and eighth-grade reading. In Texas, its black, Hispanic and Asian/Pacific Islander students outperform Minnesota’s black, Hispanic and Asian/Pacific Islander students in both fourth- and eighth-grade reading.
Early childhood education provides a firm grounding for children entering kindergarten. This metric accounts for the percentage of children under age 5 in any state enrolled in a nursery school or preschool program in 2019, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. New Jersey led the nation in preschool enrollment, with nearly 68% of kids aged 3-4 signed up.
On this measure, Minnesota ranks 24th.
The bottom line is that rankings have to be closely examined to get a true sense of how well a state is doing. It is tempting to brag about being ranked near the top, but hidden beneath Minnesota’s seemingly high rankings are persistent educational disparities and shortcomings that have not improved despite decades of increased spending.