2018’s States with the Best & Worst School Systems

Everyone knows the right answear

Jul 30, 2018  |  Adam McCann

ecuring a child’s academic success begins with choosing the right schools. But how can parents decide where to enroll their kids? Because children develop and learn at different rates, the ideal answer to that question varies based on each student’s needs. Unfortunately, most parents can’t afford to place their children in exclusive, private or preparatory schools that give their students greater individual attention.

For the majority of U.S. families, public education is the only option. But the quality of public school systems varies widely from state to state and is often a question of funding. Public elementary and secondary education money usually flows from three sources: the federal, state and local governments. According to the U.S. Department of Education, states contribute nearly as much as local governments, while the federal government supplies the smallest share. Some researchers have found that more resources — or taxes paid by residents — typically result in better school-system performance.

Unlike other research that focuses primarily on academic outcomes or school finance, WalletHub’s analysis takes a more comprehensive approach. It accounts for performance, funding, safety, class size and instructor credentials. To determine the top-performing school systems in America, WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across 25 key metrics. Read on for our findings, expert insight from a panel of researchers and a full description of our methodology.

Main Findings

 

Public School Ranking by State

Overall Rank
(1 = Best)
State Total Score ‘Quality’ Rank ‘Safety’ Rank
1 Massachusetts 74.16 1 1
2 New Jersey 67.09 3 9
3 Connecticut 66.93 2 11
4 New Hampshire 65.11 4 7
5 Vermont 63.18 5 4
6 Virginia 63.03 7 2
7 Minnesota 60.34 6 27
8 Maryland 57.82 10 20
9 Wisconsin 57.59 9 26
10 Colorado 57.45 14 8
11 North Dakota 57.03 11 29
12 Wyoming 57.02 8 37
13 Maine 56.82 16 5
14 Nebraska 56.42 12 28
15 Kansas 55.55 21 6
16 Iowa 55.33 13 35
17 Rhode Island 54.78 19 14
18 Washington 54.58 17 10
19 Delaware 54.36 31 3
20 Kentucky 54.34 20 19
21 Illinois 54.20 15 40
22 New York 53.36 24 12
23 Montana 52.78 18 37
24 Indiana 52.69 22 23
25 South Dakota 52.27 23 24
26 Florida 52.10 25 22
27 Ohio 51.93 29 18
28 Pennsylvania 51.36 30 17
29 Missouri 51.20 26 34
30 Utah 50.99 28 32
31 Michigan 50.07 27 44
32 North Carolina 48.91 32 25
33 Oklahoma 48.79 36 16
34 Idaho 47.84 33 39
35 Tennessee 46.90 39 15
36 Texas 46.90 35 41
37 California 46.33 38 21
38 Georgia 45.67 37 42
39 Hawaii 45.09 41 13
40 South Carolina 42.24 40 46
41 Arkansas 42.18 34 50
42 West Virginia 39.91 44 31
43 Oregon 39.79 42 49
44 Alabama 38.98 43 45
45 Mississippi 38.87 45 43
46 Nevada 38.54 47 36
47 Arizona 37.53 48 30
48 Alaska 35.87 50 33
49 District of Columbia 33.62 49 48
50 Louisiana 32.50 46 51
51 New Mexico 31.53 51 47

 

 

Low Spending & Stro…High Spending & We…MixedINAKALAZARCACOCTDEDCFLGAHIIDILIAKSKYLAMEMDMAMIMNMSMOMTNENVNHNJNMNYNCNDOHOKORPARISCSDTNTXUTVTVAWAWVWIWY015304560015304560Spendings Ranking (1=Highest)School System Ranking (1=Best Quality)

State Spendings Ranking School System Ranking Ranking
IN 49 24 Low Spending & Strong School System
AK 3 48 High Spending & Weak School System
AL 40 44 Mixed
AZ 48 47 Mixed
AR 35 41 Mixed
CA 36 37 Mixed
CO 27 10 Low Spending & Strong School System
CT 4 3 Mixed
DE 10 19 Mixed
DC 1 49 High Spending & Weak School System
FL 41 26 Mixed
GA 33 38 Mixed
HI 17 39 High Spending & Weak School System
ID 51 34 Mixed
IL 15 21 Mixed
IA 26 16 Low Spending & Strong School System
KS 32 15 Low Spending & Strong School System
KY 31 20 Low Spending & Strong School System
LA 23 50 High Spending & Weak School System
ME 43 13 Low Spending & Strong School System
MD 13 8 Mixed
MA 7 1 Mixed
MI 34 31 Mixed
MN 16 7 Mixed
MS 44 45 Mixed
MO 28 29 Mixed
MT 25 23 Low Spending & Strong School System
NE 19 14 Mixed
NV 47 46 Mixed
NH 9 4 Mixed
NJ 5 2 Mixed
NM 30 51 Mixed
NY 2 22 Mixed
NC 39 32 Mixed
ND 46 11 Low Spending & Strong School System
OH 29 27 Mixed
OK 45 33 Mixed
OR 20 43 High Spending & Weak School System
PA 12 28 High Spending & Weak School System
RI 11 17 Mixed
SC 21 40 High Spending & Weak School System
SD 42 25 Mixed
TN 37 35 Mixed
TX 38 36 Mixed
UT 50 30 Mixed
VT 6 5 Mixed
VA 24 6 Mixed
WA 18 18 Mixed
WV 14 42 High Spending & Weak School System
WI 22 9 Mixed
WY 8 12 Mixed

Note: Spendings Ranking refers to “Total Current Expenditures for Public Elementary and Secondary Day Schools per Student” (Highest Amount = Rank 1)

 

Ask the Experts

Giving students a good education is crucial for the future of the country. That responsibility falls to parents, educators and leaders alike. To expand the discussion, we asked a panel of experts to share their thoughts on the following key questions:

  1. How will the education policy agenda being pursued by the Trump administration affect the quality of K-12 education across states?
  2. Does variation in per-pupil spending explain most of the variation in school quality?
  3. What can state and local policymakers do to improve their school systems without raising taxes?
  4. In setting a child up for success, how important is the quality of the school relative to other factors (family, neighborhood, etc.)?
  5. In evaluating the best and worst school systems, what are the top five indicators?

Lori Czop Assaf

Ph.D., Professor, Honorary Professor of International Studies, Program Coordinator for Undergraduate Elementary Education, Graduate Reading Faculty, Texas State University
Lori Czop Assaf

How will the education policy agenda being pursued by the Trump administration affect the quality of K-12 education across states?

Race inequity will be one of the biggest issues affecting the quality of K-12 education across the states. Trump pushed back policies put in place by Obama to encourage voluntary use of race to increase diversity and avoid racial isolation in elementary and secondary schools. I believe this is a very detrimental decision that will negatively impact the quality of education in the U.S. Diversifying our schools benefits all children- it provides opportunities for teachers and students to actively engage and embrace our linguistic, cultural and ethnic diversity. We are better citizens when we interact and learn with others who are different then us. By rescinding this important policy, we will see more segregation across school districts based on property taxes and inequitable district boundaries. Such divisions will continue to promote racism, stereotypes and unequal teaching opportunities for people of color. I fear this will also impact the resources students and teachers need to be successful. It has the potential to negatively impact access to college level courses offered in middle school and high school such as Advanced Placement (AP) and Honors courses.

Does variation in per pupil spending explain most of the variation in school quality?

I do not believe that variation in per pupil spending explains most of the variation in school quality. Teacher knowledge, expertise and ability play a bigger role in school quality than pupil spending. While how much school districts receive per student is important and plays a huge role in resources, classroom teacher/pupil ratio per class size, teachers’ knowledge and ability to teach every student makes a bigger difference. Teachers with graduate level degrees in subject areas such as reading, science, math, social studies have students who perform better on standardized tests then teachers without advanced degrees. Teachers with advanced degrees also have higher rates of attrition and show more leadership potential over their career. These teacher leaders not only impact the instructional practices in classrooms and schools, they are highly knowledgeable and responsible for creating curriculum that meets the learning needs of all students.

What can state and local policymakers do to improve their school systems without raising taxes?

State and local policymakers can invest in teachers’ education and professionalism without raising taxes. Instead of creating policies that allow anyone to teach (research shows that this practice is highly ineffective and detrimental to students and school success), they should encourage certified teachers to pursue advanced degrees, serve as committee leaders on state level policy and curriculum tasks, and lift up the status of teaching as a profession in the U.S. Once status is lifted and teachers are viewed as highly educated and essential to the growth of our nation (on every level) then more qualified individuals will pursue teaching as a profession. Do we need to pay teachers more? Yes. In Texas, we most definitely need to pay teachers more. But I think that could happen by reallocating funds and not raising taxes. Too often, principals and superintendents pay hundreds and thousands of dollars on expensive instructional programs – programs that are not research based nor have any record of effectiveness because they seek a “quick fix” to an educational problem. These funds could be better used to invest in teachers’ education and professionalism. Teachers are extremely resourceful, innovative and know their students. I believe reallocating these funds will not only improve instruction and student learning, it will advance the belief that teachers are highly intelligent, professionals who can teach children and improve the school system.

In evaluating the best and worst school systems, what are the top 5 indicators?

The top 5 indicators of the best and worst school systems:

  • Teacher knowledge/expertise and attrition rates.
  • Instructional time.
  • Teacher/student ratio per classroom.
  • Effective leadership.
  • Community inclusion and involvement.
Back to All Experts

Theodore G. Zervas

Ph.D., Associate Professor, MAT Coordinator, North Park University
Theodore G. Zervas

How will the education policy agenda being pursued by the Trump administration affect the quality of K-12 education across states?

There is no way to really predict what impact President Trump and Secretary DeVos’ education policy will have on the quality of education across the nation. But we do know that that Secretary DeVos has called on drastically cutting the Department of Education budget. Secretary DeVos has also proposed using $250 million to create a federally funded, nationwide school voucher program. Most of the vouchers would be used towards private school education. Fewer funds and resources going to public schools would only hurt the quality of education in these schools while more money through a voucher program would help private schools.

Does variation in per pupil spending explain most of the variation in school quality?

Yes and No. It all depends on how the money is being spent at schools. One thousand dollars difference between two students may not have a tremendous impact. It’s all about how to maximize resources and monies to help students. When we are talking about two or three thousand dollars them we may see an impact on the quality of education. But again here we have to look if the money is being spent effectively.

What can state and local policymakers do to improve their school systems without raising taxes?

We have to remember that schools are part of the community. Local business, community members, and other stakeholders need to get more involved in their local schools to help support their schools, both financially and through other support networks. For a long time college and universities have sought the help of donors. I think k-12 public schools could do the same.

In setting a child up for success, how important is the quality of the school relative to other factors (family, neighborhood, etc.)?

While teachers and school resources are important they are not the main contributing factor to a child’s success. Rather a child’s family background and child’s support network outside of school are the most important factors in a student’s success. The more people behind the child the more likely he/she will succeed.

In evaluating the best and worst school systems, what are the top 5 indicators?

Test scores are not the best indicators but we do not have many solid indicators when evaluating schools. Some things can’t be measured well, like student or parent satisfaction of their schools. Today, most high schools do not keep track of their students after high school to see if they went on to college, or decided to pursue another path. When someone is looking for schools for their child I tell them the best thing they could do is look at the school report card, but also visit the school and talk to the teachers and administrators about the school and school community.

 

Methodology

In order to determine the best and worst states for public-school education, WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across two key dimensions, including “Quality” and “Safety.”

We evaluated those dimensions using 25 relevant metrics, which are listed below with their corresponding weights. Each metric was graded on a 100-point scale, with a score of 100 representing the highest quality of public K–12 education.

Finally, we determined each state and the District’s weighted average across all metrics to calculate its overall score and used the resulting scores to rank-order our sample.

Quality – Total Points: 80

  • Presence of Public Schools in “Top 700 Best U.S. Schools”: Full Weight (~3.64 Points)
    Note: This metric measures the number of public schools in U.S. News & World Report’s “Top 700 Best U.S. Schools” ranking adjusted by the number of public schools for each state in the U.S. News & World Report sample.
  • Blue Ribbon Schools per Capita: Full Weight (~3.64 Points)
    Note: The National Blue Ribbon Schools Program recognizes public and private elementary, middle, and high schools based on their overall academic excellence or their progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups.
  • High School Graduation Rate Among Low-Income Students: Full Weight (~3.64 Points)
  • Projected High School Graduation Rate Increase Between 2017-2018 and 2031-2032 School Years: Full Weight (~3.64 Points)
  • Dropout Rate: Double Weight (~7.27 Points)
  • Math Test Scores: Double Weight (~7.27 Points)
    Note: This metric measures the scores earned by fourth and eighth graders.
  • Reading Test Scores: Double Weight (~7.27 Points)
    Note: This metric measures the scores earned by fourth and eighth graders.
  • Share of 2017 High School Class Scoring “3” or Higher on Advanced Placement Exams: Double Weight (~7.27 Points)
  • Median SAT Score: Double Weight (~7.27 Points)
  • Median ACT Score: Double Weight (~7.27 Points)
  • Share of High School Graduates Who Completed ACT and/or SAT: Double Weight (~7.27 Points)
    Note: For this metric, the percentage sum may be larger than 100 percent, considering some students completed both standardized tests. However, no data specifying the number of students who did so are available.
  • Division of SAT Results by Percentile: Full Weight (~3.64 Points)
  • Division of ACT Results by Percentile: Full Weight (~3.64 Points)
  • Pupil-Teacher Ratio: Full Weight (~3.64 Points)
  • Share of Licensed/Certified Public K–12 Teachers: Full Weight (~3.64 Points)

Safety – Total Points: 20

  • Share of Threatened/Injured High School Students: Double Weight (~3.33 Points)
    Note: This metric measures the percentage of public school students in grades 9 to 12 who reported being threatened or injured with a weapon on school property.
  • Share of High School Students Not Attending School Due to Safety Concerns: Full Weight (~1.67 Points)
    Note: This metric measures the percentage of public school students in grades 9 to 12 who reported not attending school because they felt unsafe at or on their way to or from school.
  • Share of High School Students with Access to Illegal Drugs: Full Weight (~1.67 Points)
    Note: This metric measures the percentage of public school students in grades 9 to 12 who reported that illegal drugs were made available to them on school property.
  • Share of High School Students Participating in Violence: Full Weight (~1.67 Points)
    Note: This metric measures the percentage of public school students in grades 9 to 12 who reported involvement in a physical fight at least once during the previous 12 months on school property.
  • Share of Armed High School Students: Full Weight (~1.67 Points)
    Note: This metric measures the percentage of public school students in grades 9 to 12 who reported carrying a weapon on school property.
  • Number of School Shootings (1990-present (May 30, 2018)): Full Weight (~1.67 Points)
  • Presence of Adopted and Enacted Laws Regulating Mandatory School Resource Officers: Full Weight (~1.67 Points)
  • Bullying Incidence Rate: Double Weight (~3.33 Points)
  • Disciplinary Incidence Rate: Full Weight (~1.67 Points)
    Note: Rate measured per 100,000 students.
  • Youth Incarceration Rate: Full Weight (~1.67 Points)
    Note: Rate measured per 100,000 population aged 20 and younger.

Resources:

Sources: Data used to create this ranking were collected from the U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Department of Education, National Conference of State Legislatures, National Center for Educational Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, U.S. News & World Report, College Board, Ballotpedia and ACT.

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