Maine schools in middle of pack

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LEWISTON – Where a child grows up makes a big difference in how successful that child will be in school, according to national report released Wednesday.

Maine ranked 23rd among the 50 states, based on things such as family income, standardized test scores and job opportunities.

The report, “Quality Counts 2007: From Cradle to Career, Connecting American Education From Birth to Adulthood,” was prepared by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, which produces the national magazine Education Week.

To get individual rankings for all states, the report looked at 13 success indicators. Maine scored at or above average in all but three.

In preschool areas such as family income and parental education, Maine fared well, said Patrick Miller of the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center. Family income was higher than the national average, and more Maine children have at least one parent with a college degree.

Maine also did well in the K-12 school area, with reading scores higher than the national average, math scores slightly above the national average and a larger number of high school graduates.

“But Maine comes back to the pack” when it comes to college participation, Miller said. The report showed that only 41.8 percent of young adults in Maine are enrolled in college or have college degrees, compared to 47.8 percent nationally.

Maine also loses ground with the annual incomes of all workers, not just parents; and fewer job opportunities than the rest of the country, Miller said.

Editorial Projects has issued annual reports about K-12 achievement for 11 years, but this was the first time the group analyzed environments that affect students’ success, he said.

Increasingly, experts “have become aware that K-12 education does not exist in isolation,” Miller said. “Several factors lead up to success.”

K-12 education prepares young adults to further their education or to go into the work force, but how well students are able to achieve education success comes not only from schools, but also from their homes, parents, communities and “a lot of individual factors in society,” Miller said.

He said Virginia led the nation in having the best chances for children to enjoy success. New Mexico was the lowest-scoring state. Virginia scored plus-22 on the success indicators, while New Mexico got a minus-23, a 45-point spread. Maine’s score was plus-3.

Maine educators said Wednesday they weren’t surprised at Maine’s ranking.

The state is working on a number of initiatives, such as high school reform, to boost the number of Mainers going to college, said Valerie Seaberg, chief of staff for the Maine Department of Education. When the number of Maine college graduates rises, other problem areas such as low income and a lack of steady employment will improve, Seaberg said.

John Kennedy, assessment coordinator for the department, pointed out that test scores show good opportunities in Maine.

“There’s less of a gap between the rich and poor than what we see in other states,” Kennedy said. “Whether you’re rich or poor, you’re getting the same education,” Kennedy said.

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