Maine has safe schools, but high bullying rates, website claims

The finance website WalletHub, which is regularly producing broad data analyses ranking the 50 states across a variety of criteria, has recently crunched a bunch of statistics about education.

In this latest study, WalletHub looks at piles of test scores, as well as dropout rates, student-teacher ratios and bullying incidents, among other things, to make its best guess at which states have the best schools.

It’s worth pointing out that education systems are nuanced things, and WalletHub’s formula for ranking the states isn’t the only possible one. And it certainly could be argued that, because of the range of differences in test deliveries and data collection methods across states, it’s impossible to ever really crunch these numbers in a way that provides a real apples-to-apples comparison.

So consider this latest ranking a conversation starter.

In it, Maine finds itself in the top half of states, at No. 19 overall. WalletHub divides its data under two headings — “School System Quality” and “Safety.”

Maine is ranked No. 20 in “Quality” and No. 13 in “Safety” to reach its No. 19 combined ranking.

But in an example of how these numbers can be misleading, Maine is listed near the bottom of all states in WalletHub’s review of its SAT scores. Maine has required all of its students to take the college-prep SATs, while in most states, only high schoolers with college aspirations take the test.

That would naturally drive down Maine’s average SAT scores relative to other states, but doesn’t necessarily mean Maine’s college-bound students are performing any worse than other states’ college-bound students. To make matters worse for Maine, WalletHub gives average SAT scores double weight in its calculations — it also gives double weight to the percentage of high school graduates to complete the ACT, another college prep test which could be less popular in a state where all students are already required to take the SAT.

Maine, a relatively rural state, gets points for having small classroom sizes and “safe” schools, as determined by youth incarceration rates and percentages of high school students who report having been threatened or injured by weapons while on school property.

But WalletHub ranked Maine among the states with high bullying rates.

According to the biennial Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey, nearly 26 percent of Maine female high school students say they’ve been bullied through electronic means, such as e-mails or social media.

The older the high schoolers get, the statistically less likely they seem to engage in online bullying, that survey found — 21.6 percent of freshmen and sophomores reported being victims of electronic bullying, while that number drops to 16.4 percent by the time they’re seniors. Another 14 percent or so of male high school students report online bullying, rounding out for an average across both males and females of just less than 20 percent.

It’s worth noting here, though, that in a previous WalletHub study focused just on online bullying, the site found that eight states — including some significant ones, like California, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Colorado — didn’t report enough bullying information to be included.

So while even a single case of bullying deserves attention, it’s worth considering that Maine’s high bullying rate may be more about the state’s proactive record-keeping than an outsized bullying problem here. Our state just may be doing a better job keep data on the bullying that is here.