Skip to comments.States With the Best (and Worst) Schools
Posted on 01/14/2014 6:47:29 PM PST by SeekAndFind
For years, American students have consistently ranked poorly compared to most developed nations. And according to a recently released study, the U.S. education system remains mediocre, receiving a C− grade, for the third year in a row.
Click here to see the states with the best school systems
Click here to see the states with the worst school systems
Education news and research publication Education Week released its 18th annual survey of the status of education in all 50 states. The K-12 Achievement Index is one indicator in Education Week’s “Quality Counts” report that measures key education outcomes and provides ranks and grades for each state based on their commitment to improve educational policies and practices. This year, Massachusetts received the highest score, a B, while Mississippi got an F. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the states with the best and worst scores for K-12 achievement.
The discussion of quality of education often turns quickly to money. It appears that the states with the highest levels of achievement generally also spend more money on education. The states with the top five grades in achievement are all in the top 15 for funding per student, adjusted for the cost of living. Only one of the 10 worst states for student achievement was in the top 15 for spending per student, cost-adjusted.
Senior Research Associate at the Education Week Research Center, Sterling Lloyd, explained that funding is not necessarily “the deciding factor” that determines the quality of education. Of course, he added, “most people would acknowledge that if there’s not enough money there then it makes things difficult for educators and makes it very difficult to improve achievement.”
There is a surprising lack of correlation between the state’s K-12 achievement and the presence of policies Education Week identified as important. Five of the 10 states with the best achievement scores are among the worst in the country for setting standards and using assessment techniques that are most likely to be effective, according to Education Week. Meanwhile, Louisiana and West Virginia are the second- and third-best states for standards, but they are both among the five worst states in student achievement.
Lloyd explained that one reason for this disparity may be the amount of time it takes for good policies to have an impact on schools. “One of the things we find is that the states that have historically had lower student achievement tend to perform better on the policy side of things. Often, this is because they’ve put in place an aggressive policy agenda, in part because they’ve had low achievement over the years.”
24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 11 best-scoring and 10 worst-scoring states in K-12 achievement, based on Education Week’s 2014 Quality Counts report. Education Week analyzed six separate categories that measure different components of the education system. These categories are K-12 achievement; standards, assessment and accountability; the teaching profession; school finance; students’ chances for long-term success; and transitions and alignment. K-12 achievement measures test scores and graduation rates. Standards, assessment and accountability determines whether schools measure student achievement through standardized testing and rewards and penalizes schools based on performance. The teaching profession category measures whether schools hold teachers accountable to high standards and provide incentives for performance. School finance measures whether the state is spending money on students and identifies funding inequality. The students chances for long-term success category measures family background and employment opportunities. Transitions and alignment measures how schools manage students’ transitions between the school systems and secondary education or employment. All data are for the most recent available year.
These are the states with the best and worst schools.
The Best Schools
> State score: 74.2 (tied for 10th highest)
> High school graduation rate: 77.5% (22nd best)
> Per pupil expenditure: $9,573 (14th lowest)
> Preschool enrollment: 48.5% (tied for 18th highest)
Virginia’s school systems received an A in the standards, assessments and accountability category, much better than other states with top overall scores, and among the best grades in the country. Virginia’s policies and standards it applies to its teaching staff also received a high grade, a B−, among the best 10 in the nation. As of 2012, Virginia was one of only 11 states to reward teachers for high student achievement with a pay-for-performance program. That year, there were 45 high Advanced Placement exam scores for every 100 students in the 11th and 12th grades, more than any other state except for Maryland.
> State score: 74.2 (tied for 10th highest)
> High school graduation rate: 75.6% (25th best)
> Per pupil expenditure: $9,160 (9th lowest)
> Preschool enrollment: 48.1% (23rd highest)
Nearly 48% of adults in Colorado had completed a postsecondary degree as of 2012, the second-highest rate of adult educational attainment in the country and a good indicator of the success of the state’s schools. Despite scoring relatively high, Colorado’s school system still has room to improve. The state was among a minority of states that did not determine grade-specific standards in English and mathematics in 2012. Further, Education Week assessed the state’s efforts to improve teaching very poorly, with a D.
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> State score: 74.9
> High school graduation rate: 72.1% (15th worst)
> Per pupil expenditure: $9,262 (11th lowest)
> Preschool enrollment: 41.1% (13th lowest)
Of the six major categories covered by Education Week, Washington received the highest grade in the chance for success category, which measures family background and employment opportunities, receiving a B−. Educational attainment and the proportion of annual incomes exceeding the national median among adults in the state, for example, were above the national average, at 43.4% and 55.5%, respectively. Over the past decade, the proportion of Washington middle school students performing at an advanced level in mathematics increased more than the vast majority of states. Between 2003 and 2013, the proportion of eighth graders scoring at the highest levels on national assessments improved by 5.7 percentage points.
> State score: 75.6
> High school graduation rate: 83.0% (6th best)
> Per pupil expenditure: $13,741 (12th highest)
> Preschool enrollment: 48.5% (tied for 18th highest)
More than 40% of Pennsylvania middle schoolers were proficient in mathematics and reading at the eighth grade level in 2013, both among the best in the country. Over the 10-year period between 2003 and 2013, Pennsylvania did a better job than any other state of closing the reading gap — the disparity between the reading ability of affluent and that of less-affluent children. The gap is widening across the nation, but in Pennsylvania, it has narrowed considerably.
ALSO READ: States Spending the Most on Education
> State score: 75.8
> High school graduation rate: 72.9% (17th worst)
> Per pupil expenditure: $9,752 (15th lowest)
> Preschool enrollment: 50.8% (tied for 11th highest)
Florida was one of just a few states to receive an A in the transitions and alignment category, which measures how schools manage students’ transitions between the school systems and secondary education or employment. To smooth transitions between school, postsecondary institutions and the workforce, Florida uses high school assessments to aid postsecondary decisions, one of a few states to do so. Florida school systems received among the highest marks in the country in equity and spending indicators, indicating that funds are well distributed across school districts in the state.
> State score: 76.7
> High school graduation rate: 80.4% (10th best)
> Per pupil expenditure: $11,043 (24th lowest)
> Preschool enrollment: 46.9% (24th highest)
Nearly 60% of fourth graders in Minnesota were proficient in math, based on 2013 national assessment scores, better than every other state in the country. That year, 47.2% of eighth graders were also proficient in math, third highest in the nation. In December of last year, a study by the Minnesota Department of Education found a vast improvement in the chances of Minnesota children starting kindergarten to succeed on third grade achievement tests compared to roughly a decade ago. Minnesota scored well in other indicators for success, including educational attainment among parents. More than 60% of children had at least one parent with a postsecondary degree in 2012, the third-highest proportion in the country.
> State score: 77.3
> High school graduation rate: 85.0% (the best)
> Per pupil expenditure: $17,388 (3rd highest)
> Preschool enrollment: 50.8% (tied for 11th highest)
Vermont spent 5.5% of taxable resources on education in 2011, the highest proportion in the country. That year, per pupil spending in the state was the third highest nationally, at $17,388. Some 85% of Vermont public high school students in the class of 2010 received a diploma, the best graduation rate in the country that year, and more than 10 percentage points better than all U.S. high school students. Additionally, 14.2% of eighth graders performed at an advanced level on national assessments last year, fourth highest in the nation. Vermont also has shown its school systems can be innovative. Five years ago, in an effort to reform several failing elementary schools, Vermont introduced the nations first sustainability-themed public elementary school. Today, the school is thriving with coveted teaching positions and a long waiting list for kindergarten.
ALSO READ: Seven States Slashing School Funding
4. New Hampshire
> State score: 78.8
> High school graduation rate: 78.3% (18th best)
> Per pupil expenditure: $14,556 (9th highest)
> Preschool enrollment: 51.9% (8th highest)
Unlike the most of states, New Hampshire did not require formal evaluations of teachers in 2012. This may partly explain the state’s D grade in Education Weeks teacher profession category, worse than nearly every other state. New Hampshire students, however, perform very well on standardized tests. Nearly 59% of fourth graders were proficient in math in 2013, second only to Minnesota. Fourth graders in the state were also second in the nation in reading ability, with nearly 45% demonstrating reading proficiency on national assessments in 2013.
3. New Jersey
> State score: 82.1
> High school graduation rate: 83.1% (5th best)
> Per pupil expenditure: $14,920 (6th highest)
> Preschool enrollment: 63.4% (2nd highest)
The proportion of New Jersey eighth graders performing at an advanced level on math sections of national tests increased by 9.2 percentage points in the past 10 years, more than double the rate of improvement nationwide. Last year, 46.3% of New Jersey’s eighth graders were proficient in math, second only to Massachusetts. New Jersey scored in the top 10 in all four spending indicators measured by Education Week. The state spent nearly 5% of its taxable resources on K-12 schooling that year, second only to Vermont. However, Education Week graded New Jerseys management of its teachers among the worst in 2012. Recently, as part of Governor Chris Christie’s focus on education, the state has introduced teacher tenure programs that aim to make it more difficult for mediocre teachers to continue teaching poorly.
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> State score: 83.1
> High school graduation rate: 78.6% (17th best)
> Per pupil expenditure: $13,060 (16th highest)
> Preschool enrollment: 49.2% (15th highest)
The state performed remarkably well in Education Week’s measure of public school achievement. Nearly 45% of fourth graders were proficient in reading based on 2013 national assessments, the highest in the nation and more than 10 percentage points better than the national average. The state actually scored better than the average state in all six major categories Education Week measures. Maryland’s grade in facilitating student transitions between schools and into the professional world was second best in the country. In 2013, for example, high school students in the state were able to earn credits towards Maryland’s postsecondary system, one of only eight states to enact such a policy.
> State score: 83.7
> High school graduation rate: 79.9% (14th best)
> Per pupil expenditure: $13,127 (15th highest)
> Preschool enrollment: 59.4% (3rd highest)
As it did last year, Massachusetts received the highest grades of any state for its student achievement and chance for success. Massachusetts elementary students also outperformed those in every other state in reading proficiency, as did middle schoolers in mathematics. Last year, the number of advanced scores on national assessments more than doubled in the state, a larger increase than any other state. More than 18% of eighth graders achieved an advanced level in math that year, the highest proportion to achieve such excellence in the country. The percentage of children with at least one parent who works full time and the percentage of children with at least one parent who has earned a postsecondary degree were higher than every other state in the nation.
The Worst Schools
> State score: 64.2
> High school graduation rate: 73.9% (20th worst)
> Per pupil expenditure: $9,075 (8th lowest)
> Preschool enrollment: 43.5% (19th lowest)
Oklahoma received low marks from Education Week in a number of major indicators. The state received a D in student achievement, driven in part by poor proficiency scores in reading and math, especially among eighth graders. Students also lacked the opportunity to succeed. Young adult Oklahomans were among the least likely Americans to pursue a higher degree, and state adults were among the least likely to have a postsecondary degree. The state also received a poor grade in school financing, due in part to limited per pupil spending. Yet, Oklahoma got an A in standards, assessments and accountability, ranking among the best states in the nation.
> State score: 63.8
> High school graduation rate: 70.9% (11th worst)
> Per pupil expenditure: $10,833 (23rd lowest)
> Preschool enrollment: 48.4% (20th highest)
Despite relatively good grades in standards and assessments, as well as in the transitions and alignment indicators, Michigan received a D in the K-12 achievement measure, among the worst in the country. Fourth graders in the state have not improved much in their math and reading abilities on national assessments. Fourth grade reading scores on national assessments actually got worse between 2003 and 2013. Between 2000 and 2010, graduation rates in Michigan also worsened by 2%, even as they improved across the nation by nearly 8% over that time.
8. South Dakota
> State score: 63.2
> High school graduation rate: 76.3% (24th best)
> Per pupil expenditure: $11,742 (22nd highest)
> Preschool enrollment: 38.8% (7th lowest)
South Dakota got a D or worse in four of the six categories reviewed by Education Week. State level policy in South Dakota does not seem to support successful school systems. Unlike the most states, South Dakota’s early learning standards were not aligned with national K-12 standards in 2012. Also, according to Education Week, South Dakota schools were not adequately held accountable for their performance. Further, key policies designed to improve the teaching profession, including incentive programs and professional development standards, were completely absent in South Dakota in 2011 and 2012.
7. South Carolina
> State score: 62.6 (tied for 6th worst)
> High school graduation rate: 61.5% (2nd worst)
> Per pupil expenditure: $9,877 (16th lowest)
> Preschool enrollment: 46.7% (25th highest)
South Carolina received the highest grade in the nation for efforts to improve teaching. As of the 2011-2012 year, the Palmetto State was one of just 11 with a pay-for-performance program, and one of 15 with incentives to teachers for taking on differentiated roles. Yet, area students continue to show limited gains in achievement. Between 2003 and 2013, South Carolina students’ math and reading scores improved less than students’ scores in most other states — in some cases state student scores even worsened. As of 2010, the state also had one of the lowest high school graduation rates in the nation. Recently, Governor Nikki Haley announced a proposal to spend $130 million to hire reading coaches, improve Internet access in schools and increase spending in poor school districts.
> State score: 62.6 (tied for 6th worst)
> High school graduation rate: 68.7% (9th worst)
> Per pupil expenditure: $17,554 (2nd highest)
> Preschool enrollment: 41.4% (14th lowest)
Earning a license to teach in most states usually involves a practical segment. Alaska is part of a small minority of states that did not require teachers to complete a number of teaching hours as of the 2011 school year. This could explain in part Alaska’s receiving the worst grade in country in the teaching profession category. Last year, Alaskan students did not fare well on national assessments. Alaska spent $17,554 per pupil in 2011, the second most in the country. This spending, however, may be reduced going forward, with the Alaska House Sustainable Education Task Force recently calling for spending cuts statewide.
> State score: 62.2
> High school graduation rate: 69.4% (10th worst)
> Per pupil expenditure: $9,959 (17th lowest)
> Preschool enrollment: 44.4% (22nd lowest)
Less than one out of five Alabama eighth grade students were proficient in math on national assessments last year, worse than any other state. Reading skills were nearly as bad at the eighth grade level, with just around 25% of students demonstrating proficiency in 2013. Students in Alabama face limited opportunities to succeed as well. Just 69% of students had a parent working full-time and year round, while just 42% had at least one parent with a postsecondary degree — both worse than most other states.
4. West Virginia
> State score: 60.8
> High school graduation rate: 74.7% (23rd worst)
> Per pupil expenditure: $14,147 (11th highest)
> Preschool enrollment: 35.5% (3rd lowest)
Between 2003 and 2013, West Virginia fourth and eighth grade students became less proficient readers, with national test scores worsening by 4.5 percentage points and 2.2 percentage points, respectively — the worst declines in the nation. While nearly 50% of three- and four-year-olds were enrolled in preschool across the nation in 2012, only 35.5% of West Virginia children were enrolled. Early last year, West Virginia received a waiver releasing schools from No Child Left Behind regulations, allowing the adoption of a new system. One way the state may seek to improve national test scores is to adopt Florida’s education model, which grades schools on student performance.
3. New Mexico
> State score: 60.3
> High school graduation rate: 59.4% (the worst)
> Per pupil expenditure: $10,547 (22nd lowest)
> Preschool enrollment: 38.4% (6th lowest)
In addition to low achievement grades, New Mexico school systems got a D+ in Education Week’s chance for success category, worse than every state except for Nevada. Less than half of young adults were enrolled in postsecondary institutions or had completed a degree as of 2012. High school graduation rates in New Mexico were also the lowest in the nation in 2010, at less than 60%. Last year, middle school students in New Mexico were among the least proficient in mathematics and reading based on national test scores. Less than one-quarter of eighth grade students were proficient in both subjects in 2013. In the past few years, however, New Mexico had adopted policies that may improve the performance of teachers and students in the coming years.
> State score: 59.8
> High school graduation rate: 67.0% (6th worst)
> Per pupil expenditure: $12,454 (19th highest)
> Preschool enrollment: 52.1% (7th highest)
Louisiana students had among the worst NAEP scores in the nation, with fourth and eighth graders ranking second worst in math proficiency, as well as third worst in reading proficiency. While proficiency scores in the state are on the rise, as of 2012, high school students in Louisiana were among the least likely to record high scores on A.P. tests. Many students in the state lack adequate opportunities to succeed as well, with low family incomes and limited parental employment or education. All these factors help shape the early foundations that play a big role in determining a child’s chances for success in pursuing an education. The state has also faced controversy in the past over a 2008 law that allows schools to teach creationism in science classes.
> State score: 57.1
> High school graduation rate: 64.4% (5th worst)
> Per pupil expenditure: $9,542 (13th lowest)
> Preschool enrollment: 53.1% (6th highest)
Mississippi was the only state in the country to receive an F in Education Week’s K-12 achievement category. High school students were the least likely in the country to score a three or above on advanced placement tests, with less than four high grades per 100 students in 2012, compared with more than 25 per 100 students across the nation. Poverty could be one factor affecting achievement. A minority of children have families earning more than double the poverty level, about 40%, the lowest nationally. In addition, the funds available in the state are not evenly distributed. To a greater extent than all but three other states, wealthy school districts in Mississippi had more funding per pupil than poor districts in 2011.
Click here to see the states with the best school systems
Some surprises on that last, Maryland, Michigan I’d’ve guessed they be in opposite places. And YAY New Jersey. My kid got a very good education in the Bayonne Public Schools.
It all depends on how they’re scored.
School choice in Michigan is going strong with charter schools and other alternatives booming.
Are they figuring preschool enrollment, and per student expenditure into the rank as it seems? That doesn’t make much sense...
public schools are all “worst”
Interesting that the article didn't address the effect of intact families on the education success of children. I noticed race wasn't mentioned either.
AND . . . if a state expended ONLY 10K per year on educating the little darlings, that means that for a classroom of 20 3rd-graders, I’d have a cool $200,000 to spend a year. If I paid the teacher 50K, spent 5K on heating, and 5K on erasers and chalk, I’d have $140K still available to burn through.
Heck give me $200,000 a year and see if I can’t get twenty kids to read at grade level, add two column numbers and scribble.
Surely I could make it on that.
> For years, American students have consistently ranked poorly compared to most developed nations.
Perhaps racial quotas and race-norming has something to do with it.
Bah...bad students make bad schools. Sorry to be the fly in the ointment, but in most cases the facts show that private schools do little for dullard students. All the conservative talk about “good” schools solving the education problem is all booshwah. If a kid wants to learn and his family his behind him or her, that student will learn. If the the kid hates school and has parents or parent who don’t give a d..., that kid won’t learn. Too much is made of schools in the education equation. The students themselves and their parents are far more important than what school they go to.
I agree and take it a step further: I would argue that "the school" IS the parents and students themselves.
Obviously money isn't the biggest factor, as the per-pupil expenditures are all over the place for both best & worst. And based on the states shown, I'd be willing to bet that the racial makeup and the single-mother household makeup is HUGE among those ranked lowest.
We really need a “Like” button around here...
Where’s CA? Thought it be in the bottom 10.
And Wash DC?
One of the more insightful discussions of education ratings is from the IowaHawk archives from 2011. Link is:
So? My state, Georgia, usually ranks right down there at the bottom but their rank was artificially inflated due to the massive cheating scandal in the Atlanta public school system. It will regain its miserable rating next time they do the survey. Yet in spite of that they always field a great bunch of local students for Georgia Tech and Emory, 2 schools that are among the nation's best. Those kids excel in spite of the schools, not because of them. I suspect your situation is similar and I noticed you mentioned factors other than a great school system that contributed to their success.
“I noticed you mentioned factors other than a great school system that contributed to their success.”
Exactly! The education industry is basically bunk.
This article lists South Dakota as the 8th worst.
However is you look at graduation rates from here:
you find that South Dakota ranks 12th BEST for overall graduation rate:
High School Graduation Rates by State
|State||All Students||Children with Disabilities||Limited English Proficient||Economically disadvantaged|
As other Freepers have noted, this article places way too much emphasis on money spent and programs enacted. If you look at results, South Dakota is either the 12th Best or the Best, depending on category. A long way from 8th Worst as mentioned in the article.
(Full Disclosure: I have never been to South Dakota and, to my knowledge, do not know anyone from there, let alone anyone involved in teaching.)
Yes, and if you would look at the average SAT scores by state you would find that your kids were not that unusual for OK. OK has horrible schools with high average SAT scores...hmmmm.
Florida’s schools are better than Connecticut? Maybe in football, but Florida’s schools sucks.
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