The Agenda

More on California vs. Texas

A recent McKinsey Institute study on racial achievement gaps includes the following:

Important performance gaps exist at every level in American education: among states, among districts within states, among schools within districts, and among classrooms within schools. This confirms what intuition would suggest and research has indicated: differences in public policies, systemwide strategies, school site leadership, teaching practice, and perhaps other systemic investments can fundamentally influence student achievement. California and Texas, for example, are two large states with similar demographics. Yet as shown in Exhibit 7, Texas students are, on average, one to two years of learning ahead of California students of the same age, even though Texas has less income per capita and spends less per pupil than California.

This struck me as worthy of note. In addition, California has a far worse dropout rate than Texas. 

The Center for American Progress has a useful chart comparing the number of uninsured residents by state and how quickly the proportion of uninsured residents is growing. In Texas, 28 percent of the population is uninsured, a number that is troublingly high. And between 2007 and 2009 the number of uninsured has grown by 10 percent a year. In California, 23 percent of the population is uninsured — but the number grew by 13 percent a year over the same period. 

One could, of course, compare Texas to Vermont or New Hampshire or Utah, states with vastly different demographics and far more children raised in two-parent families. But the comparison between California and Texas is basically apples to apples, though California has a number of big advantages in terms of a higher number of affluent college-educated residents, many of them migrants from other parts of the country and the world. And I must say, Texas seems to be doing pretty well. 

Some critics seem to believe that California would improve its performance by raising taxes and increasing social spending. This is an interesting view that deserves a respectful hearing. It is by no means clear to me, however, that this strategy has proved very effective in the past.


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