NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Are Texas' Schools Really that Bad?

September 1, 2011

The Obama administration recently attempted a pre-emptive strike on Texas Governor Rick Perry by unleashing Education Secretary Arne Duncan to attack Texas' record on education.  Duncan's arguments have generated a lot of useful discussion across the web, but Andrew Biggs, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, throws some rudimentary data analysis into the picture.

If you look at Texas' simple average test scores in reading and math for fourth and eighth grade students, they're about average.  But Texas' schools serve a population with several challenges, in particular many low-income and Spanish speaking children.

  • To account for this, Biggs tabulated average test scores by race for each state using data from the National Center for Education Statistics, then weighted the scores using Census data on the racial composition of each state.
  • He then calculated Texas' standing in the distribution.
  • What the data shows is that, once you take the racial composition of the states into account, Texas does a lot better than Duncan gave it credit for.
  • Overall, Texas is at the 71st percentile, which isn't shabby at all.

Texas looks particularly good when you consider how much it spends on education.  

  • Based on its level of spending, Texas' average test score "should" be around the 36th percentile, but in reality it's the 71st percentile.
  • And while Texas' test scores are in the 71st percentile nationwide, its per pupil spending is in the 26th percentile -- meaning that it performs better than roughly three-quarters of states while spending less than roughly three-quarters of states.
  • Put another way, Texas' education system generates scores that the average state would spend an extra $6,350 per pupil to produce.

Finally, Biggs looks at high school graduation rates.

  • Across all racial groups, Texas graduates a greater percentage of its high school freshmen than the U.S. average.
  • In the case of Native Americans, Texas' graduation rate is massively higher -- 85 percent versus only 61 percent nationwide.

Source: Andrew G. Biggs, "The Obama Administration's Lone Star Mistake," The American, August 30, 2011.

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