Special Report

States With the Best (and Worst) Schools

Yale, New Haven, Connecticut
Source: Thinkstock

6. Connecticut
> Overall grade: B
> Per pupil spending: $16,637 (5th highest)
> High school graduation rate: 87.2% (14th highest)
> Pct. 3 & 4 yr. olds enrolled in preschool: 63.9% (the highest)

Connecticut allocates 4% of its total taxable resources to education, a larger share than in all but a few other states. Some of these funds go to the state’s pre-K program. Early childhood education can be crucial for social, emotional, and cognitive development. With 63.9% of three- and four-year olds enrolled in preschool, Connecticut is leading all states in an important measure for children’s chances for success.

While it is no guarantee of achievement, children who grow up in an economically secure household are more likely to find academic success. Nearly 72% of children in Connecticut are raised in households with incomes at least double the poverty rate, well above the 57% share of children nationwide.

Golden Fiery Sunset at Grand Teton, Wyoming
Source: Thinkstock

7. Wyoming
> Overall grade: B-
> Per pupil spending: $17,490 (4th highest)
> High school graduation rate: 79.3% (14th lowest)
> Pct. 3 & 4 yr. olds enrolled in preschool: 40.3% (12th lowest)

Wyoming is the only state west of the Mississippi River to have one of the best-rated education systems. While student achievement is just average in Wyoming, the state’s school system is one of the best-financed in the country. The state allocates 4.1% of its taxable resources to education spending, a larger share than all but five other states. With a relatively large budget, every public school student in the state benefits from per-pupil spending that exceeds the national average, and only two other states have more equitable distribution of funds between districts.

The relationship between per-pupil spending and educational outcomes is complex. Despite Wyoming’s considerable investment in public schools, fewer than 80% of high school students graduate on time, slightly below the 83.2% national high school graduation rate.

University of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania
Source: Thinkstock

8. Pennsylvania
> Overall grade: B-
> Per pupil spending: $14,394 (10th highest)
> High school graduation rate: 84.8% (25th lowest)
> Pct. 3 & 4 yr. olds enrolled in preschool: 45.0% (25th highest)

Schools in Pennsylvania are funded relatively well and equitably. Some 93% of students in the Keystone State are educated in districts that receive higher than the U.S. average per-pupil funding, a far larger share than is typical.

While the relationship between funding and educational outcomes is a matter of debate, students in Pennsylvania tend to do better in several measures of achievement than children in other states. Pennsylvania ranks seventh in the country in both fourth and eighth grade reading proficiency.

Columbia University, New York
Source: Thinkstock

9. New York
> Overall grade: B-
> Per pupil spending: $18,191 (3rd highest)
> High school graduation rate: 79.2% (13th lowest)
> Pct. 3 & 4 yr. olds enrolled in preschool: 57.3% (4th highest)

New York spends more per pupil on education than all but two other states. In many high-spending states, school funding is unevenly distributed. In New York, however, nearly every student is enrolled in a district with higher than average per pupil spending.

While the statewide high school graduation rate trails the comparable national figure by a few percentage points, it has improved substantially in recent years. From 2002 to 2012, the state’s graduation rate improved by 17.5 percentage points, the second highest increase of any state over that time period. Eleventh and 12th grade advanced placement students tend to do better in New York than elsewhere. Some 38% of advanced placement test scores are high enough to potentially earn college credit, a larger share than in all but half a dozen other states.

Providence, Rhode Island. City in New England region of the United States. Brown University, Department of Economics.
Source: Thinkstock

10. Rhode Island
> Overall grade: C+
> Per pupil spending: $14,601 (9th highest)
> High school graduation rate: 83.2% (22nd lowest)
> Pct. 3 & 4 yr. olds enrolled in preschool: 45.6% (22nd highest)

Rhode Island is one of only two New England states to earn less than a B grade from Education Week. Though it trails its neighbors, Rhode Island still ranks far better than most U.S. states.

Rhode Island received the best marks in its public school financing. The state allocates 3.8% of its taxable resources to education, one of the higher shares in the country. Partially as a result, every school district spends more than the national average on a per pupil basis. Higher spending is no guarantee of better academic performance, however, and fourth and eighth graders in Rhode Island are less likely to be proficient in math than their counterparts nationwide.