Special Report

States With the Best (and Worst) Schools

The Worst Schools

10. Oklahoma
> 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.

9. Michigan
> 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.

6. Alaska
> 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.

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