States With the Best (and Worst) Schools

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States with the best schools

10. Minnesota
> Overall grade: B-
> State Score: 79.9
> Per pupil spending: $11,547 (25th highest)
> High school graduation rate: 88.0% (7th highest)
> Eighth graders proficient in math or reading: 47.2% (3rd highest)

Minnesota’s school systems received a B- in Education Week’s report, which ranked them 10th in the country. One reason the state’s schools are so strong is likely the high educational attainment of the students’ parents. As of 2013, nearly 62% of children had at least one parent with a post-secondary degree, the highest proportion in the country. While Minnesota’s per pupil spending was in line with the rest of the nation in 2012, the distribution of school funding was more equitable in the country, with less than $3,700 per pupil separating the state’s best- and worst-funded schools. The consistent funding and childrens’ strong foundation at home likely helped students’ performance. In 2013, nearly half of all eighth graders were proficient on national standardized tests.

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9. New York
> Overall grade: B-
> State Score: 80.0
> Per pupil spending: $17,326 (4th highest)
> High school graduation rate: 78.0% (17th lowest)
> Eighth graders proficient in math or reading: 32.3% (18th lowest)

New York school districts spent an average of $17,326 per pupil in 2012, with all districts spending more than the national average expenditure of $11,735 per pupil. New York is able to spend so much money per student mostly because it commits a relatively large portion of its budget to education. The state spent 4.3% of its GDP on education in 2012, the fifth highest share in the country. Additionally, parents were highly likely to enroll their children in early education programs. Nearly 58% of eligible children were enrolled in preschool and 79% in kindergarten in 2013, among the highest proportions in the country. Despite the high levels of education spending, New York students’ scores on standardized tests overall were on par or even lower than the national averages in 2013.

8. Pennsylvania
> Overall grade: B-
> State Score: 80.1
> Per pupil spending: $13,653 (11th highest)
> High school graduation rate: 88.0% (7th highest)
> Eighth graders proficient in math or reading: 41.9% (6th highest)

While Pennsylvania school districts spent an average of $13,653 per pupil in 2013, nearly $2,000 more per student than the national average, not all school districts could afford to spend so much. More than 26% of students lived in school districts that spent less per student than the national average, the second-highest proportion among the 10 states with the best schools. Nevertheless, 88% of students graduated high school with a diploma in four years, well above the national rate of 81%. Test scores for Pennsylvania’s public school students showed strong improvement between 2003 and 2013, rising at one of the faster rates in the country.

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7. Wyoming
> Overall grade: B-
> State Score: 80.6
> Per pupil spending: $17,758 (3rd highest)
> High school graduation rate: 80.0% (24th lowest)
> Eighth graders proficient in math or reading: 37.8% (19th highest)

As in other well-graded state school systems, Wyoming schools had among the largest budgets nationwide in 2012. School districts spent an average of $17,758 per pupil, more than in all but two other states. Large expenditures do not always result in excellent test scores, however. While more than a quarter of 11th and 12th graders across the nation scored at least a three out of five on Advanced Placement tests, less than one in 10 did in Wyoming, exceptionally low compared to other states with high quality school systems. Still, Wyoming students are perhaps more likely to succeed than most American children. Nearly 84% of children had at least one parent working full-time and year-round — the second highest rate nationwide. This is a strong indicator of positive early foundations that often lead to student success.

6. Connecticut
> Overall grade: B-
> State Score: 82.3
> Per pupil spending: $15,172 (6th highest)
> High school graduation rate: 86.0% (12th highest)
> Eighth graders proficient in math or reading: 37.1% (21st highest)

More than 64% of three- and four-year old children in Connecticut were enrolled in preschool in 2013, a higher proportion than in any other state. Residents were also among the nation’s wealthiest. Nearly 60% of adults earned incomes above the national median, among the highest shares of any state. Similarly, nearly 70% of children had families with incomes that were at least 200% of the poverty level, also among the highest of any state. High incomes likely contributed to the state’s large school budgets, which in turn seem to have helped students perform better than their nationwide peers on standardized tests. While 34% of American fourth graders were proficient on reading exams, nearly 43% of Connecticut fourth graders were. High school students were also far more likely than their peers nationwide to excel on Advanced Placement tests.