Education news publication Education Week has released the 15th edition of its annual report titled Quality Counts 2011, which ranks states according to their educational policy-making and performance. For the third year in a row, the state of Maryland emerged on top when the scores in all six categories that make up the Quality Counts framework were aggregated.

The categories include the link between education and beneficial outcomes in the course of a lifetime, K-12 student achievement levels, school finance and spending patterns, teaching and various other policies and standards.

Each one of the 50 states in the study was awarded a summative letter grade to reflect the performance in all the categories and Maryland received a B-plus at number one position. The states of New York and Massachusetts, with B grades, were ranked second and third, respectively. Virginia, with a B-minus, was placed fourth. The nation as a whole earned a C which is the the same grade it had received in last year's report.

The report comes at a time when the American public education system is under the scanner for several perceived deficiencies in policy, programs and personnel that became especially more obvious following the results from assessment tests conducted under the OECD Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).

These tests evaluated the competence of 15 year old students from various nations in math, science and reading and for 2009, found American students lagging significantly behind their peers in places like Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong.The system is under pressure to reinvent itself which is especially challenging given the deep fiscal anxiety faced by school districts and administrations in the wake of budget cuts and withdrawal of federal aid.

As part of the overall study, Education Week also conducted a special survey to assess the state of public education finances, and explored some of the state-level responses to the recession in such crucial areas as personnel and operational flexibility for districts.

It found that while there were not too many large-scale education policy changes at the state level directly attributable to the economic downturn,there were certain modest policy modifications to provide local school systems with greater flexibility in the aftermath of the recession - such as the broadening of the eligible uses of education funds previously reserved for particular programs, or greater flexibility of schools' regulations on the length of the school year, week, or day.