Best Schools: Virginia Public Education Ranks In Top 10, DC Fails

The value placed on the teaching profession can have a big effect on the quality of public education in Virginia and Washington, DC

By Deb Belt, 

WASHINGTON, DC — Students will be going back to school in a few weeks, but where they live often determines the quality of their education, according to a new study that ranks the states with the best and worst school systems. The Commonwealth ranked sixth, while Washington, D.C., ranked 49th overall.

Virginia ranked seventh in quality and second in safety. District of Columbia schools ranked 49th in quality and 48th in safety.

The study by the personal finance website WalletHub compared public school systems in 50 states and the District of Columbia across 25 measures of quality and safety, ranging from the pupil-to-teacher ratio to the dropout rate to median standardized-test scores. Virginia ranked fourth for highest math scores, while DC was 50th in that category.

Nearby Maryland ranked eighth overall.

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WalletHub looked beyond academic performance and financing and took a deep dive into school safety, including cyberbullying; class size; and instructor credentials.

Test scores still play a big role in student performance under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, but states can determine how that takes place. Opportunities aren’t equal in all of the states, and that often comes down to the amount of money state and local governments are willing to spend for public education, according to the analysis by WalletHub.

Instructor quality may be the most important factor affecting public education, according to Laura Hsu, an assistant professor at Merrimack College. Recruiting and retaining strong teachers should be a priority for every district, she wrote in comments accompanying the study, but that’s tied to funding.

“Often, teachers report they feel overworked and underpaid,” Hsu wrote. “What undergirds this is the value placed on the teaching profession in our country, as opposed to other countries who compensate their teachers significantly more, such as Finland. A change in perception is important if any changes in compensation will occur.”

The best schools are concentrated in the Northeast, where the top five schools — Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont, respectively — are all located. The bottom rankings were in New Mexico, Louisiana, the District of Columbia, Alaska and Arizona.

The quality of public education often comes down to the level of funding from the federal, state and local governments, according to the authors of the study. States contribute nearly as much as local governments, and the federal government contributes the smallest share.

Money matters, according to a study by Rutgers Professor Bruce Baker, whose findings were published by the Albert Shanker Institute. He said that “on average, aggregate measures of per-pupil spending are positively associated with improved or higher student outcomes,” while “schooling resources which cost money … are positively associated with student outcomes.”

Some additional findings from the study:

Iowa has the lowest dropout rate, at 8.7 percent, which is 3.5 times lower than in the District of Columbia, where the dropout rate is 30.8 percent.

Vermont has the lowest pupil-to-teacher ratio which is 2.2 times lower than in California.

Illinois, Missouri and Wisconsin share honors for the highest median SAT score, 613.33, which is 1.5 times higher than in the District of Columbia, whose median score is 396.67.

The District of Columbia has the lowest share of students who were bullied online, at 8.90 percent, which is 2.4 times lower than in Louisiana, where 21.20 students report cyber-bullying.

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