States With the Best (and Worst) Schools

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States with the worst schools

10. California
> Overall grade: D+
> State Score: 69.2
> Per pupil spending: $8,308 (6th lowest)
> High school graduation rate: 82.0% (22nd highest)
> Eighth graders proficient in math or reading: 27.6% (8th lowest)

While Education Week gave the United States a C for its school systems, California received a D+ and the 10th worst overall score in the country. Although California’s eighth grade reading scores improved more than those of all but one other state between 2003 and 2013, less than 30% of students were proficient in reading as of 2013, one of the lowest percentages nationwide. California school districts spent $8,308 per pupil on average in 2012, one of the lowest expenditures and considerably lower than the national figure of $11,735 per pupil. Immigrants make up a relatively large share of California’s population. Only 63.3% of children had fluent English-speaking parents, the lowest proportion nationwide. This may play a role in the students’ performance at school, as children for whom English is a second language may find the primarily English instruction more difficult than other students.

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9. South Carolina
> Overall grade: D+
> State Score: 68.9
> Per pupil spending: $10,141 (18th lowest)
> High school graduation rate: 72.0% (5th lowest)
> Eighth graders proficient in math or reading: 30.8% (16th lowest)

South Carolina had nearly the worst four-year high school graduation rate in 2012, at 72%. The state was also one of only a few where student scores on reading standardized tests worsened between 2003 and 2013. As in most states with the worst school systems, incomes in South Carolina were also relatively low. Less than 49% of children lived in families earning incomes of at least 200% of the poverty level, one of the lowest rates nationwide. While the state has been struggling with low incomes, nearly 84% of eligible South Carolina children were enrolled in kindergarten programs, the highest proportion nationwide.

8. Louisiana
> Overall grade: D+
> State Score: 68.5
> Per pupil spending: $12,375 (19th highest)
> High school graduation rate: 72.0% (5th lowest)
> Eighth graders proficient in math or reading: 20.8% (2nd lowest)

Louisiana school systems spent $12,375 per pupil on average in 2012, the only one among the states with the worst school systems to exceed the national average expenditure of $11,735 per pupil. Despite the relatively higher spending, less than 21% of Louisiana eighth grade students were proficient on the NAEP in 2013, less than in all but one other state. Many students underperforming on national exams may not have been able to catch up by the end of their high school careers. Louisiana had one of the worst four-year high school graduation rates, at 72%, versus a national rate of 81%. Also, as in many other poor state school systems, 11th and 12th grade Louisiana students were among the least likely to excel on Advanced Placement tests in 2012.

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7. Alabama
> Overall grade: D+
> State Score: 67.7
> Per pupil spending: $9,563 (14th lowest)
> High school graduation rate: 75.0% (8th lowest)
> Eighth graders proficient in math or reading: 19.7% (the lowest)

Nationwide, more than one-third of eighth grade students were proficient in mathematics. In Alabama, however, less than one in five eighth graders did, the lowest rate nationwide. Alabama children also struggled with reading far more than their peers in other states. Just over 25% of eighth graders were proficient in reading, less than in all but three other states. Like other poorly-rated state school systems, adults in Alabama also tended to have lower incomes. Just 44.5% of working-age adults had incomes at or above the national median, one of the lower rates. Poor test scores, in addition to low statewide incomes, likely made pursuing higher education more difficult for many young Alabamians. While 55.1% of American young adults were enrolled in or had completed a post secondary program, less than half of 18-24 year old Alabama residents had, one of the lower rates.

6. Idaho
> Overall grade: D+
> State Score: 67.7
> Per pupil spending: $8,123 (4th lowest)
> High school graduation rate: 84.0% (16th highest)
> Eighth graders proficient in math or reading: 36.5% (22nd highest)

While wealthier school districts almost always have larger per pupil budgets than poorer ones, in Idaho the gap in per student spending was relatively small. Still, most of Idaho’s school districts were quite poor. Compared to the 43.4% of school districts nationwide that spent more than the U.S. average per pupil in 2012, just 3.8% of school districts in Idaho had above average expenditures, one of the lowest figures reviewed. Despite the relatively low education spending, 38.3% of Idaho eighth graders were proficient on the reading sections on the NAEP, one of the higher rates and more than the national figure of 34.3%.