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Wyoming vs D.C. K-12 Smackdown

We recently overheard an opinion that Washington D.C.’s K-12 schools have had the greatest improvement in National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores of any jurisdiction in the U.S. in recent years. We’ve also heard Wyoming legislators heap praises on Wyoming’s school system for its improved NAEP scores. Let’s compare them, shall we?

Graphs 1 and 2 show Wyoming and D.C. NAEP historical average scale scores[1] for 4th and 8th grade reading.

NAEP Reading Graph 1

Here is a table of the Grade 4 Reading scores and percentage changes from year to year:

Grade 4 Reading

NAEP Reading Graph 2

Here is the table of Grade 8 Reading scores and percentage changes:

Grade 8 Reading REV

While Wyoming’s raw scores are, and have been higher, D.C. scores have improved much more than Wyoming’s over both the long term and the short term. Next, we line up the two jurisdictions with Grades 4 and 8 Math. Graphs 3 and 4 tell the tale.

NAEP Math Grade 4 Graph 3

Grade 4 Math

NAEP Math Grade 8 Graph 4

Grade 8 Math

Again, Wyoming’s raw scores are higher than D.C.’s, but they’re only slowly improving, while D.C.’s steadily and strongly improve.

Regrettably, D.C.’s improvement beats us in both subjects, in both grades in the large majority of years and overall. Game, set and match to D.C. Bummer. Didn’t expect that!

As an aside, we also note that Wyoming’s scores display little effect from the school spending spree that began around 2005 as a result of supreme court decisions.

Perhaps the reason that D.C. outperforms Wyoming is because it spends more per student than we do. That seems like a safe bet. Graph 5 shows the raw cost per student from 2007 through 2014, the most recent available comparable figures[2].

Graph 5 Historical Cost

But is this the whole story? We know that D.C. has a very high cost of living. If we adjust for that, how will Wyoming compare?

For purposes of this thought experiment, we use non-PhD economist approved methods to illustrate the broad point of the question. Data on relative cost of living between states is difficult to come by so we’re going to use what we found for 2016 and assume that the 2016 gap between Wyoming and D.C. was the same for each year between 2007 and 2014.

According to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center[3], Wyoming’s cost of living index in 2016 was 91.7 and D.C.’s was 149.2. To make the costs per student comparable between the two jurisdictions, we simply divide each one’s cost by its index. For example, Wyoming’s nominal 2007 $13,217 divided by 91.7 is $14,413 and D.C.’s $14,324 divided by 149.2 converts to $9,601. Graph 6 shows the new picture[4].

Graph 6 Historical Cost

It’s layman’s math, but the moral of the story is clear. Wyoming’s K-12 system is very, very costly on an absolute basis and progresses only slightly to better results over time. Wyoming doesn’t have a school revenue problem. It needs to cut K-12 spending and achieve better results.

One last thought: D.C. is the city whose long-time mayor (1979-1991 and 1995-1999) Marion Berry, is immortal for the words, “Outside of the killings, Washington has one of the lowest crime rates in the country[5].” And their scores are improving faster at lower cost than ours are?


[1] Generated using the NAEP Data Explorer.

[2]U.S. Census Bureau, Census of Governments: Finance - Survey of School System Finances SS1400A08, SS1300A08, SSF020-Geography-United States

[3] Cost of Living Data Series 2016 Annual Average. Missouri Department of Economic Development.

[4] This graph should not be used for interpreting trend in costs over time.

[5] “The 267 Stupidest Things Democrats Ever Said”, Ted Rueter, Three Rivers Press, New York.

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