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Vermont students: Top of the class or not?

"The French don't care what you do as long as you pronounce it correctly," the phonetics professor observes. Perhaps Higgins is the source for the official evaluation of Vermont public education; in Prescott's words, "It's great to see Vermont doing so well."

I'd say that the Higgins Principle enjoys remarkable currency amongst Vermont's public educators.

If your notion of "doing well" embraces a 51 percent proficiency rate in math, you can claim superiority to almost all other states; indeed, the 2007 National Digest of Educational Statistics showed the U.S. average for 4th grade math at 239 (out of a possible 500), compared to a Vermont average score of 246. That's 39 percent proficient, nationally, compared to 49 percent less than half) proficient in-state.

If you are careful not to mention the actual numerical proficiency rate in your public statements, you'll be equally carefully to avoid the NAEP stats for proficiency in ethnic grouping. The 2007 NDES shows the 4th grade reading results. Vermont, a statistically all-white state, came in at 229.

The U.S. white cohort average (not an overall total average typically depressed somewhat by lower minority scores) was 230. Adjusted for race, Vermont students aren't "top of the class" (using the Herald's language), but a point below the national average. Marginally better stats were posted in 8th grade science, wherein statistically-all-white Vermont came in at 162 (the U.S. white average was 159, the black average was 123). Virginia's white students scored better at 165.

Going similarly unmentionable by the commissioner and other Vermont educators are the annual per-pupil cost data, which, taken in conjunction with test scores, furnish an indicator of educational productivity.

The 2007 NDES reported that, for 2005, Vermont spent $12,783, when the U.S. average was $10,071 and Virginia, a State with better scores in some disciplines, spent $10,030. In contrast, previous Vermont Commissioner Richard Cate took considerable verbal pride in both Vermont low class size and high annual per-pupil spending; he explained that policy factors were responsible for Vermont's impressive test scores and that-like the shampoo-purchasing lady in the advertisement-we're worth it.

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