Q&A of the Day – Blue State vs. Red State Education Outcomes

Q&A of the Day – Does Political Leadership at the State Level Impact Education Outcomes? 

Each day I feature a listener question sent by one of these methods.   

Email: brianmudd@iheartmedia.com  

Social: @brianmuddradio 

iHeartRadio: Use the Talkback feature – the microphone button on our station’s page in the iHeart app.    

Today’s Entry: Brian I enjoy the education analysis you regularly provide. It’s refreshing to hear the facts of how students are performing as opposed to the constant litany of news stories that amount to little more than political mudslinging. The way that I see it, if a state, IE Florida, enacts education policy changes and students perform better, that’s a win. If a state enacts education policy changes and students perform worse, that’s a loss. That takes me to my question/ask of you. Could you please provide an analysis on the leadership of states relative education outcomes. How have blue states been trending in education and how have red states been trending? Hopefully this is something you’ll consider covering. 

Bottom Line: I’m happy to address the topic. Education narratives increasingly don’t mirror results and I believe that your point about state policy impacting education results in the classroom is extremely relevant. It can be an oversimplification to place too much emphasis on red state/blue state policy. After all, obviously not all political leaders of the same party govern the same way, nor when it comes to most issues are there hard and fast results that cleanly break along red state/blue state lines. For example, in education there are red and blue states that are both among top performers nationally and those that are among the worst performers nationally. That said, the period we’re living in probably provides the best look at education policy through the prism of politics.  

The COVID Slide in education has proven to be the most disruptive event in education since the creation of the Department of Education and the annual comparative measurement studies, such as what the National Association of Educational Progress provides with The Nation’s Report Card. Additionally, regarding the culture war policy battles and their impact on education, there’s ample evidence emerging that states which have placed emphasis on teaching CRT and various LGBTQIA+’* related materials have been trending worse educationally than states which haven’t been. It stands to reason that if states dedicate time and resources away from tried and true curriculum, and towards new social justice styled material, there could be negative outcomes in core subjects. For the purpose of this analysis, I’m using 4th grade Mathematics outcomes from the National Assessment. As of last year’s “Nations Report Card”, which was the first conducted since 2019 due to the pandemic, there were 16 states which are performing better educationally now than they were in 2019. Those states are in this order:  

  • Wyoming, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Florida (ranked 4th nationally as well), Wisconsin, North Dakota, Iowa, Utah, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Indiana, Minnesota, South Dakota, Texas, Montana, Ohio.  

While the results don’t perfectly break along partisan lines by way of state leadership there is an evident theme and trend. Of those sixteen states which have been improving education outcomes, twelve are led by Republicans with only four that are led by Democrats. So now let's look at the states which have seen worsening academic performance. There are 22 of those states. They are in this order: 

  • New Mexico, Delaware, Alaska, West Virginia, New York, Arkansas, Oregon, Louisiana, Maryland, Nevada, Oklahoma, Alabama, California, Arizona, Michigan, Missouri, Maine, Mississippi, Kentucky, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont 

Of those states the majority, twelve, are and have been led by Democrats and ten have been led by Republicans. That’s not nearly as resounding along political lines as the states which have improved academic performance – though it holds true that most of the states which have seen declining academic performance are Democrat-run states. By going through this exercise, we do see that overwhelmingly, Republican leadership has been a common denominator in states which have been improving academically, while Democrat leadership has been the most common denominator with states which have seen declining performance. As an aside, when pulling the research for this story, the last year Florida saw a measured decline in academic performance year-over-year was in 2011 (and even then, the decline was by less than one percent year-over-year).  

So yes, while those with left leaning political agendas within the education establishment and within the Democrat party continue to deride Florida’s educational policy changes, the policy changes themselves are evidenced to be part of what is one of the most impressive stories of academic improvement in the country. As always there are two sides to stories and one side to facts... 

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