The states of successful children

Marketplace Staff Jan 3, 2007

KAI RYSSDAL: So, where do you live? No need for specifics. A ZIP code will do. We’re asking because there’s word today that where a child grows up has a big influence on his chances for success later in life. So says a study in the current issue of Education Week. Sarah Gardner reports on the state-by-state “chance for success index.”

SARAH GARDNER: This year’s study probably doesn’t tell the states much they didn’t already know. According to its rankings, kids in Virginia have the best chance of succeeding in life.

The report’s authors came to that conclusion by tracking 13 indicators, some of which have more to do with parental status than school quality. The highest-ranking states like Virginia and Connecticut, for example, have an excess of well-educated, high-income, English-speaking parents.

Moms and dads in low-ranking Texas and Arizona, for example, have just the opposite. But Chris Swanson, who conducted the research, says in the case of the worst performers, it’s not just family factors at work.

CHRIS SWANSON: It’s just a steady stream of early disadvantage followed by ineffective schools followed by limited opportunities in the labor force.

Today’s study also factors in pre-school enrollment, student test scores, even adult employment rates. Of course, somebody always ranks last in these kinds of reports and this time the dubious honor goes to New Mexico. Secretary of Education Veronica Garcia concedes New Mexico’s problems and says she’ll use the report to lobby for more money.

VERONICA GARCIA: We’re going for expansion of our pre-K program. We have a huge intiatiatve that addresses the digital divide. We’re looking at a major high-school redesign — 7.4 percent increase in teacher salaries. . . .

No doubt other states will use their high rankings to lure corporations and talented workers.

I’m Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

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