Fact check: Massachusetts student achievement is first in nation

As in previous debates, Mitt Romney has referred to the education system in Massachusetts as No. 1 in the nation. On Monday, he referred, in particular, to fourth- and eighth-graders ranking at the top.

Student achievement in Massachusetts is arguably first in the country based on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a test given to a sample of students nationwide. These are the test results to which Romney was referring. Massachusetts also has been praised for its rigorous academic standards.

The state has the advantage of greater education funding than many states and, compared with California, for example, has a less challenging student population in terms of family income, parent education levels and native English speakers.

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Significant education initiatives in Massachusetts began in the early 1990s, about a decade before Romney became governor — a point that President Obama briefly tried to insert in the debate.

Romney’s education initiatives were not as aggressive as those of some of his predecessors, but no one has plausibly linked him to any decline in student performance. And he did not derail the state’s comparatively generous tax support of schools or take on the strong teacher unions in that state.

Massachusetts’ solid reputation in education was in place before, during and after Romney’s term. The state’s governors, from both major parties, have been pleased to take as much credit as they could.

Romney also referred to a program in Massachusetts to provide free tuition to state schools. That initiative helped some students, but they were still responsible for fees and other costs.

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