U.S. Earns 'C' for Overall Quality, 'D+' for Early Childhood Education

The overall quality of American education has declined over the last two years, while access to early childhood education remains insufficient and problematic, a report from Education Week and the Education Week Research Center finds.

After a hiatus in 2014, the new edition of Education Week's Quality CountsPreparing to Launch: Early Childhood's Academic Countdown — gave  American education an overall letter grade of "C" — down from "C+" in the 2013 report — based on indicators in three categories: K-12 achievement (C-), school finance (C), and chance for success (C+) — i.e., the role of education in a person's life, from cradle to career. In the state-by-state rankings, Massachusetts topped the list with an overall grade of "B," followed by New Jersey, Maryland, Vermont, and New Hampshire. Mississippi ranked last with an overall grade of "D," with Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Arizona rounding out the bottom five.

This year's report includes a new Early Education Index, which analyzes participation in early-education programs, poverty-based gaps in enrollment, and trends over time. Based on eight critical indicators of access to and equity in participation in public and private early childhood programs, the study gave the nation as a whole a grade of "D+," with half of all states earning grades in the "C-" to "C+" range and the District of Columbia ranking first with a "B." The analysis also found that only 40 percent of three- and four-year-olds from low-income families attended preschool nationwide, compared with 56 percent of children from more affluent families. And in nearly every state, low-income children were enrolled in preschool at lower rates than children from more affluent families, although the gap varied from state to state.

"No state really aces the exam on early-childhood education," said Christopher B. Swanson, vice president of Editorial Projects in Education, which publishes Education Week. "In fact, we find very inconsistent performance across early-childhood indicators, with the majority of states ranking in the top ten for some areas but in the bottom ten for others. This speaks to the complexity of early education's patchwork of laws, institutions, and programs spanning the public and private sectors."