EdSource Today » States in Motion: Tracking Education Over Time

States in Motion: Tracking Education Over Time

How does California’s investment in public education compare with that of other states? How has that investment changed over time? How does the level of spending look when compared with datasets like a state’s per-capita income, teacher salaries and students-per-teacher? And what’s the correlation, if any, between state spending on education and student test scores?

“States in Motion” explores 16 different datasets, including NAEP test scores, teacher salaries and student enrollments in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. To get you started, “States in Motion” poses a series of questions, and attempts to answer them by comparing different datasets (scroll down below the chart to see the discussion of the question). But feel free to play with the different data and variables that interest you, and let us know what you think.

If this is your first time, learn how to use the graphic here. Also, you may have to install the latest version of Adobe Flash in order to view the interactive charts.

“States in Motion” is still in a beta version, and we are interested in hearing your suggestions for making it more useful or understandable. This current version does not include state data on socio-economic characteristics of students and states because of some challenges with the data. If you have expertise in this area, let us know. You can also share your comments at the bottom of the page or send an email.

This Motion Chart is the brainchild of Jeff Camp, who developed this version and has made it available to EdSource for wider distribution and comment. Jeff chairs the education work of Full Circle Fund, a nonprofit volunteer organization with contributing members from all over the Bay Area. He is an occasional commentary contributor to EdSource Today, and the primary author of Ed100, a set of primers about education change. He is working with Stanford on an online course about education change options with a goal of launching it in early 2014.


California, Texas, and Florida account for 41% of America’s population growth since 1970

Since 1970, America’s population has increased in every state, but three states have grown the most: California, Texas and Florida. California has added 18 million residents, Texas has added 15 million and Florida another 10 million. Much of this population growth has been driven by immigration, but increases in life expectancy have played a role, too.

California, Texas and Florida count for far more than their share of the growth of student enrollment

K-12 enrollment declined significantly in the 1970s and ’80s with the “baby bust” that followed the postwar baby boom, but the pattern differed by state. Enrollment in New York declined by about a million students during this period, and has not fully recovered. In Western states, as well as Florida and Texas, school enrollment soared due to migration from other states and immigration. After factoring in net declines in other states, California, Texas and Florida accounted for far more than the net growth in the nation’s K-12 enrollment.

The ratio of school-age children to adults has shrunk in every state since 1970

The graying of America since 1970 has altered the ratio between students and adults, with implications for support for and funding of schools. In 1970, about 30% of the population of California was enrolled in K-12 education. Today, it’s 20 percent. In Florida and New York, it’s under 17 percent, compared with nearly a quarter of the population in Utah and Texas. California’s age demographics have shifted: in 1978 the state was similar to New York; today it is more like Texas.

California, once ranked #4 among states on its per capita income, has fallen to 15th place

Inflation-adjusted income per capita income has risen in all states, but some more than others. California ranked 4th in per capita income in the late 1970s but fell back during decades of rapid growth. As a result of the Great Recession, it ranked 15th in 2012 at $43,664 per person.

California, once among the highest spenders on education, now ranks 34th

In 1977 — the year before the passage of Proposition 13, which severely restricted property tax levies—California’s per-student spending was the seventh highest in the nation. By 2012, it had fallen to the bottom third of states as measured by its “current expense” per student on education, figure that excludes debt service, facilities and other costs.

It is often said that California’s funding per student is near the lowest in the United States. This is true when a state’s cost of living is taken into account. California typically funds education at a level similar to Texas, even though the cost of operating a school in California is more similar to New York or Massachusetts.

Student spending generally tracks per capita income, with the wealthier states (in yellow and orange) spending more on education. That has been consistent for the past 40 years. However, there are exceptions. West Virginia, with a below average per capita income, was in the back of the pack in the ’70s, but by 1990 had passed California in spending.

States with strong economies spend more on education than those with weak economies

Another way of capturing student spending over time is with a “bubble chart” in which each state is a circle whose size, in this case, reflects student enrollment; that’s why California looks like Jupiter on this chart. The vertical axis represents expenditures per student, while the horizontal axis, as well as the color of the circles, shows per capita income. High-income, high-spending-per-student states like New York are in the upper right; low-spending states like Utah in the lower left. Generally, states that have more to spend, spend more on kids’ education. Notice the volatile movements of Alaska, riding the oil industry’s boom and bust.

California and Florida stand out for being relatively poor funders of K-12 education in proportion to their economies

Some states make a bigger “effort” to educate students, as defined by the percentage of a state’s total income devoted to K-12 spending. In 1970, nearly every state spent at least 4 percent of its economy on schools; California’s share was 4.4 percent. Fifteen years later, California was spending 3.4 percent of its income on schools, in part reflecting a decline in school-age children (also see chart 12). After rising to 3.8 percent in 2000, effort fell amid the Great Recession to 3.2 percent in 2012. Other states followed the same pattern, though few spend as low a percentage as California.

Average teacher salaries in New York are more than double that of South Dakota.

The salary figures aren’t adjusted for regional costs of living and don’t include health care and pension benefits. Adjusted for inflation, the average pay across the K-12 teaching profession generally has kept up with inflation. For several years before the Great Recession, California’s average teacher salary was the nation’s highest.

California spends more on teacher salaries relative to its per-student spending compared with other states.

This chart compares three datasets: average teacher salaries, inflation-adjusted, on the vertical axis; inflation-adjusted per-student expenditures on the horizontal axis; and students per certificated teacher as the bubble color. California spends more on teacher salaries relative to its per-student spending compared with other states, and it has one of the highest ratios of students to certificated personnel, which include resource teachers and special education teachers, along with classroom teachers. Student teacher ratio is different from class size; the terms aren’t interchangeable.

Over time, most states have increased expenditures and reduced class sizes from 1970, when the student-teacher ratio was between 20:1 and 24:1. High-spending states like New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Rhode Island have increased teacher pay and reduced the overall student-certificated teacher ratio in the state. In many states, teacher pay has kept up with inflation but not increased substantially. California stands apart with relatively low funding per student and high teacher costs. The result is that California’s ratio of students to certificated teachers has remained among the biggest in the nation.

California has more students than Texas does, but Texas hires more teachers

Total number of teachers (vertical axis), total number of students (horizontal axis) and student-teacher ratio (color) are compared in this chart. Since 1970, in most states the numbers of students and teachers have increased. If the states were in exact diagonal alignment, they would all have the same student-teacher ratio, and they would all be the same bluish-green color. But some states – California, Utah and Michigan in particular – have run reddish “hot” with more students per teacher.

In 1992, Texas, with 1.7 million fewer students at the time, first employed more teachers than California. In the decade following the adoption of class-size reduction, mandating smaller classes in grades K-3, California caught up. But total teacher employment has plummeted in California since 2008 as a result of cuts in education spending.

In 1970, teacher salaries in each state were about double the average wage, and by 2012, they were only about 1.5 times as much

While Chart #8 showed that teachers’ salaries have kept pace with inflation over the past 40 years. This graph shows that they have not kept pace with the growth of the economy. In 1970, the average teacher’s salary, adjusted in 2012 dollars (the vertical axis in the chart), was about twice the per capita income in the state (horizontal axis). By 1980, with teachers’ salaries falling behind, that was no longer true. Michigan and California stand out with relatively high pay for teachers relative to their states’ per capita income. However, even in California, the ratio has fallen from 1970 when the average California teacher earned more than twice the state’s average per capita income, adjusted for inflation; in 2012, it was 1.6 times that amount.

When it comes to NAEP scores, Massachusetts is the state to beat.

While most state standardized tests are based on the states’ own academic standards, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, sometimes called the “nation’s report card,” is administered to sample groups of students nationwide. It does allow for cross-state comparisons – with some caveats. Every two years NAEP math and reading tests are given in grades 4 and 8. This chart compares states’ average proficiency rates for 4th and 8th grades, starting in 2000. States set their own rules for how the NAEP test is administered, and those policies reduce the value of comparisons. For example, California administers the test to a sample of all students, but Texas’s sample exempts students with less than four years of English instruction. California scores near the bottom of the NAEP, along with Louisiana, Alabama and the District of Columbia. Massachusetts is the uncontested master of the NAEP, with the top scores.

There is a slight correlation between education spending and test scores

This chart found only a slight connection between state spending per student, the horizontal axis, and proficiency scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP. High-spending Massachusetts led the way, but low-spending Colorado did as well as big spenders New Jersey and Maryland. And Utah, which spends far less, did better than New York. The District of Columbia, with a high proportion of low-income students, is a distinct outlier, with high spending and low test results.

It is hard to draw conclusions between per capita income and NAEP scores

The previous chart examined the relationship between scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress and per-student spending. This chart substitutes per capita income in each state, adjusted for inflation – for per-student spending in the horizontal axis and also finds little connection. But keep in mind there are 10,000 school districts across the nation, and this offers only a look at a state level. In a nation where urban and suburban neighborhoods are increasingly segregated by wealth, there are wealthy and poor districts within states and wealthy and poor neighborhoods within districts.

California invests about $120,000 on a student’s K-12 education over a 13-year period

A state’s investment in 13 years of a student’s education is substantial, and so is the investment gap among states. A 2013 high school graduate from New Jersey received $220,000 worth of school expenditures, compared with $80,000 spent on a graduate from Utah. In California, the state spent an average of $122,000 on student’s education from kindergarten through 12th grade. 0f course, it’s less expensive to live in Utah, which pays teachers much less than California, and that is the main source of the difference in spending. This chart compares the aggregate spending differences among states over time, starting in 1983, when the students who entered kindergarten in 1970 would have completed 13 years of public education.

Over the course of a K-12 education, California and Utah provide students with America’s lowest real investment in terms of adults per student

A school with fewer teachers and larger average class sizes affect the amount of interaction that each student has with a teacher. Over time, this attention gap — a student’s connections with adults in school – grows.

Chart 16 measured states’ average investment during the 13 years that a K-12 student is in school. This chart looks at the impact of the teacher to student ratio – the simple inversion of the student to teacher ratio – over the same period.

Consider a class with 20 students. Each student receives receives 1/20th of a staff year of instructional attention. (It’s true that some teachers can multitask better than others and engage more than one student at a time.) Over the course of two years, the average student has received 2/20 of a year of instructional focus. Over the course of 13 years in a state with a 20:1 average student-teacher ratio, the cumulative average teacher-student ratio would be 13/20, or 0.65.

Cumulative teacher-student ratio varies enormously. In states on the high side of the graph, such as New Jersey, Vermont, Maine and North Dakota, students receive more than a staff-year of instructional focus over the course of their K-12 education. In California, Arizona and Utah, on average students receive less than 0.67 staff-years of attention.

About Data:

Sources: U.S. Census, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Minnesota Population Center at University of Minnesota, National Center for Education Statistics, National Education Association, Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, Common Core of Data, and Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Notes: Official data arrive with a significant lag, and with footnotes. Monetary figures adjusted for inflation to 2012 using CPI. For “Students per Capita,” higher number denotes a younger state. Teacher counts and estimates from NEA. The most recent two years of data are based substantially on published estimates by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, plus analysis by Jeff Camp of Full Circle Fund. In the specific cases of Indiana, Hawaii, and the District of Columbia, figures for the most recent two years should be regarded as purely speculative. School years span two calendar years; in this model they are referred to by the starting year (for example, 2012 refers to the 2012-13 school year).

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  1. Bob Maxell says:

    I was able to use this motion chart in Chrome. I recognize that there may be issues with installation of the Adobe Flash player for some folks, but for whatever reason Chrome seemed to work well for me. The motion chart gave a facile way to switch between representations of the data. I found it very useful. Now I would like to see some data for the community college tier.

    1. John Fensterwald says:

      Thanks, Bob. Glad to hear that.
      We do plan to update the charts, but data on community colleges are not on the agenda at this point. Get in touch with us if you want to talk further.

  2. Patrick Atwater says:


  3. navigio says:

    purty darn cool (except i cant get it to work in chrome). I think more performance data, specifically for subgroups would be enlightening.

  4. alexander says:

    embeddable versions of the videos would be great — can’t find them are they available?

    1. John Osborn says:

      Not yet, but we’re on it!

  5. Gary Ravani says:

    In the graphs on “teachers’ salaries” and “how much do states spend on K-12 students’ it is mentioned that they would look very different if “regional cost-of-living differences” were included. Why, I believe they would. So why wasn’t that information presented?

    The English Language Learner populations create special issues for public schools in a number of states-reflected in CA’s NAEP scores but not as much in Texas as noted-so it would have been instructive to see a graph comparing states re that issue.

    1. John Fensterwald says:

      Thanks, Gary: The approach we have taken in these charts is to consistently present straightforward dollar figures, adjusted for inflation. Context emerges from the relationships between these figures.
      We are hoping others will post their insights as you have.

      1. Paul says:

        These are excellent charts, John!

        A caveat for your readers: Because most U.S. public school teachers are paid on the basis of years of teaching experience and number of post-baccalaureate credits, salary averages from different jurisdictions cannot be compared unless we know that the experience distributions and the education distributions, respectively, are comparable.

        One jurisdiction might appear to pay lower salaries just because its teachers were young or because teacher turnover was high. Another might appear to pay higher salaries just because its teachers were better-educated.

        California school districts report salaries to the state through an arcane system (“Form J-90″) that presupposes this sort of old-fashioned salary grid. I don’t know how charter schools, most of which are free to set teacher salaries on an individual basis, manage to conform to the state’s rigid reporting system.

        A suggestion for an easily-calculated and directly-comparable statistic would be weighted average salary in the first year of teaching. A weighted average in a later year would be useful, but harder to calculate because starting salaries are often specifically published, where mid-career salaries are found only in a district’s salary scale document. Either way, finding out the number of teachers in each district who were at a given experience level, to calculate a weighted average, could be challenging.

        Thanks for clearly disclosing that your figures do not include medical, pension or other benefits. It’s a little-known fact that, in California, teacher benefits other than the STRS pension are entirely at the discretion of local school districts. I once taught in a district that charged teachers the full $600 per-insured-person-per-month cost of a typical health insurance plan, while chipping in the respective $60 and $10 monthly premiums for dental and vision insurance. Another district had gone to court to unilaterally cancel its post-retirement health insurance plans. One district distributed a list of free clinics to substitute teachers (hired in violation of the Education Code to staff classrooms for a year at a time, and not offered any benefits other than STRS). I bet most people thought Wal-Mart was the only employer that behaved that way!

        Relative to other professionals who need five to six years of post-secondary education and must sit for formal licensing exams, teachers are poorly paid. Depending on the school district, benefit costs can make a bad economic situation even worse.

  6. John Osborn says:

    This comment is meant to help address the common and known issues when using this chart:

    1. Google has a bug where if you are logged into a Google account on the browser you’re using, and then Google times your account out due to inactivity, it will break Google-based visualizations like this Motion Chart until you log back in.

    2. Make sure you have the most recent version of Adobe Flash installed on your browser. Google Motion Charts run on Flash, so problems could arise otherwise.

    3. Load times are erratic. This is outside of our control since the graphic draws resources to load. Give it like a minute or so. Reload if it doesn’t work after a minute.

    Thanks for your patience and enjoy!


    John C. Osborn
    Digital Communications Manager, EdSource

    1. Charley Burns says:

      Flash support is a problem. I continually get “plugin crashed” when i attempt to view sites using flash. I’ll see if I can update it but when things become this complicated to use, i tend to go somewhere else. (I’m kind of lazy that way.).

      1. Charley Burns says:

        ok, got it working with latest flash plugin. Thanks

        1. John Osborn says:


    2. Henry says:

      John O, I tried your methods: logoff my google account and update the latest version of Adobe flash but my Chrome still can’t load the graph. Please help.

      1. John C. Osborn says:

        Try one more time; let me know if it doesn’t work.

  7. Charley Burns says:

    I’m using Firefox. I select a new data set in the dropdown list but the chart doesn’t change. What am i doing wrong?

    What are the Next an Previous buttons for? The tutorial doesn’t mention them.

    1. John Osborn says:

      The Next and Previous buttons allow for linear navigation through the different charts. Is the first graphic loading for you in Firefox?

      1. Charley Burns says:

        yes the first graphic appears to load.

        1. John Osborn says:

          Are you still having problems with changing the chart using the next or previous buttons?