States With the Best (and Worst) Schools

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5. Vermont
> 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 nation’s 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 Week’s 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 Jersey’s 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.

ALSO READ: The Best and Worst Run States in America: A Survey of All 50

2. Maryland
> 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.

1. Massachusetts
> 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.