Stuck In The Middle: Context Matters, Just Not For Missouri Wonk
A couple of days ago, the Missouri Wonk Report posted a blog claiming: “Missouri Gains Ground in Educational Achievement.” The wonks at Missouri Wonk cite the increasing percentage of Missourians who have completed high school or college from 1970 to 2010 as evidence of improvement in educational achievement. (They are really talking about attainment, not achievement, but I digress). There is one glaring problem with this analysis . . . context.
Indeed, Missouri has increased the number of high school graduates over the past 40 years, but so has every other state. Below I include a graph of the percentage of college graduates from 1990 to 2009 for Missouri and the neighboring states. This was a very quick comparison compiled from data reported by the Census (Table 233: Educational Attainment by State). It is clear from this graph that Missouri is not improving at a rate significantly different from other states. It is a well-established fact that more Americans are graduating from college than they were years ago. The question is, how are we doing in comparison to others?
Table 1: Percent of adults with a bachelor’s degree or more
To illustrate this point, take a look at the Show-Me Institute essay Slip Sliding Away. The authors of the piece look at the growth of Missouri’s Gross Domestic Product from 1997 to 2010. Without a doubt, the GDP of Missouri grew within that time frame. Yet, the authors do not conclude that Missouri has been making gains, because they put the estimates in the appropriate context by comparing Missouri to the nation and neighboring states.
Just as it was in the GDP comparison, it is clear that Missouri is not making gains in academic attainment, when the appropriate comparisons are made. I do not mean to get all wonky, but the folks at Missouri Wonk simply have this wrong.