By ROB BOCK
WASHINGTON (January 12, 2012)—Maryland schools were named first in the nation for the fourth consecutive year in a national survey, a feat Gov. Martin O'Malley credited to the state's investment in education.
O'Malley delivered the keynote speech at the release of Education Week's "Quality Counts" report. He repeated some of a 10-part proposal he made to voters during his first campaign for governor in 2006.
"We will invest in school construction to get our children out of trailers. And we will invest in K-12 education to reduce class sizes and improve public schools," he said.
O'Malley also highlighted policy changes made during his tenure that he said helped boost the performance of Maryland's public schools, including the $1.5 billion dollar investment in construction of public schools across the state, which he said created jobs and expanded opportunities.
"In 2010, we proposed investing $250 million in school construction every year for the next four. This year, we're asking our General Assembly to do $100 million better ... with a $373 million investment which would support 11,650 jobs," he said.
The annual rankings are based on 106 indicators spanning five major categories—chance for success; K-12 achievement; student finance; the teaching profession; and standards, assessments, and accountability.
Maryland was the only state to receive the survey's highest overall grade, a B+. Massachusetts, New York, and Virginia followed with B grades. The national average was a C.
Overall grades were calculated based on the average of all major categories. The category grades were determined by averaging performance of several of the 106 related factors.
Maryland got its highest grades from its strong early childhood education programs and its ability to prepare students for college education and jobs. It also had the highest percentage of high Advanced Placement test scores per 100 students, with a score of 43.8.
One of Maryland's weakest performances was in the K-12 achievement category. Though it still ranked among the top three of all states, Maryland's 83 percent reflected a lower graduation rate and smaller percentage of mathematics and reading-proficient students than other states, such as Massachusetts and New Jersey.
The report, conducted by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, was based on surveys distributed to chief state school officers in all 50 states and the District of Columbia in June 2011, and were evaluated over a 17-week period.
This most recent ranking comes just months after President Obama announced his decision to offer states a waiver from certain provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act, which was started in 2001.
Though Maryland has not yet announced its application decision, Mark Bomster, assistant managing editor of Education Week, says exemption from No Child Left Behind shouldn't have much of an effect on rankings.
"The rankings offer a pretty detailed look into the specifics of performance state by state. No Child Left Behind deals more with implementation," he said.
Bomster also said that the rankings provide a "valuable benchmark" for state officials and policy makers to use in making policies.
Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland Baltimore County, agreed, saying that the rankings accurately reflected the focus on education shared among Maryland's top policymakers.
"The fact is that this is a state in which elected officials have been determined to strengthen the quality of education among our children," Hrabowski said. "When you have a governor and a legislature agreeing on the same thing, the results are children doing well."
"I think this state is a state where we really respect our teachers."