Column: Arizona’s Rudy vs. the Northeast’s Thurston Howell the Third

Education Week recently released their “Quality Counts” report on state K-12 systems. The index has two components- a “Chance for Success” and “School Finance.” Several components of both indexes heavily advantage wealthy states with high tax rates. Not to put too fine a point on things but the most direct path to ranking high on the “Quality Counts” rankings is to have a high percentage of kids with law firm sounding names and six figure family incomes. If I had to pick a fictional character for the Northeastern states that do well in the Quality Counts rankings, I’d pick Thurston Howell the Third. TH3 is an affable chap, but not exactly a man of the people. Arizona’s fictional character of course is Rudy- the overachieving underdog.

The cast of Gillian’s Island. Thurston Howell the Third is the third from the left. Photo courtesy of Northridge Alumni Bear Facts via Flickr

Actual academic outcomes play only a limited role in the Quality Counts rankings-two out of the 13 factors in the “Chance for Success” index and nothing in school finance. We don’t, however, have to measure a multitude of factors that someone thinks relate to school outcomes-scholars have been measuring actual academic outcomes for decades.

So, what happens when Rudy takes on Thurston on production rather than a bank account contest? NAEP allows academic comparisons between states, but also between states and regions. Let’s see what has been going on with 8th grade math in Thurston Howell the Third’s Northeast versus Arizona. Let’s start with Black students and mind you 10 points on these tests approximately equals an average grade level worth of progress.

Editor’s note: Thurston Howell the Third narrates the competition with a hushed, golf announcer voice.

“Lovie it’s really not fair to compare our scores to those in Arizona. Why we spend twice as much per pupil! Our Black students, for instance, will boat race Arizona’s Black students in math. Which reminds me- I’ve got my eye on a new yacht! Anyway, Lovie let’s get this over with…wait a minute…hang on?”

“Well Lovie that was a bit unexpected, yes a bit unexpected indeed. But we’ll show those upstart cowboys a thing or two when we compare math scores for White students! Wait? What?”

“Oh dear lovie-this is going all wrong! What will they say at the country club? I’ll be humiliated! But our Hispanic students will save the…wait…what?”

“I entirely agree Lovie! Why are we paying these awfully inconvenient taxes and showering our schools with money if they are just going to get humiliated? Pack up the golf clubs and the grandchildren-we are moving the Howell estate to Arizona! I mean of course once we get off this dreadful island. A bit less humidity will do the body good.”

Matthew Ladner

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