Special Report

States With the Best (and Worst) Schools

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.

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