Special Report

States With the Best (and Worst) Schools

Campus Building, Minnesota
Source: Thinkstock

11. Minnesota
> Overall grade: C+
> Per pupil spending: $12,278 (22nd highest)
> High school graduation rate: 81.9% (19th lowest)
> Pct. 3 & 4 yr. olds enrolled in preschool: 45.6% (22nd highest)

Minnesota has one of the best statewide school systems in the nation. Most education researchers agree that children of parents with college degrees have a higher chance of succeeding in public school systems. These families tend to have both higher incomes and more parental involvement. In Minnesota, 63% of children have at least one parent with a postsecondary degree, the third highest percentage of all states. State households, with a median income of $63,488 a year, are among the wealthier in the country.

Public school students in Minnesota, whether due to greater resources at home or their higher-income school districts, also perform better on standardized tests. The percentages of fourth and eighth graders who are proficient in mathematics, at 53.4% and 47.8%, are each the second highest of all states.

Lawrence University, Appleton Wisconsin
Source: lawrence.edu

12. Wisconsin
> Overall grade: C+
> Per pupil spending: $12,206 (24th highest)
> High school graduation rate: 88.4% (6th highest)
> Pct. 3 & 4 yr. olds enrolled in preschool: 45.7% (20th highest)

In Education Week’s Quality Counts report, Wisconsin receives a C+, a slightly better grade than the nation as a whole. The state compares favorably to most states in several metrics, including graduation rates and core competency. While nationwide the high school graduation rate is 83.2%, it is 88.4% in Wisconsin, the sixth highest share among states. Wisconsin’s public school fourth and eighth graders are also more likely to be proficient in both math and reading than their counterparts nationwide.

Portland Head Light in Maine at Sunrise
Source: Thinkstock

13. Maine
> Overall grade: C+
> Per pupil spending: $15,193 (8th highest)
> High school graduation rate: 87.5% (12th highest)
> Pct. 3 & 4 yr. olds enrolled in preschool: 41.1% (16th lowest)

Maine’s school system appears to have improved at a faster rate than school systems in most other states. The state has a graduation rate of 87.5%, compared to the U.S.-wide graduation rate of 83.2%. While raw expenditure per student is not a guarantee of a quality education, school systems that spend more on students tend to have better outcomes. Maine’s system spends $15,193 a year per pupil, the eighth highest among states.

University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia
Source: Thinkstock

14. Virginia
> Overall grade: C+
> Per pupil spending: $10,078 (16th lowest)
> High school graduation rate: 85.7% (20th highest)
> Pct. 3 & 4 yr. olds enrolled in preschool: 47.1% (19th highest)

Students from wealthier, more educated families are more likely to be successful in school. Students are particularly poised for academic success in Virginia, where 56.9% of children have at least one parent with a college degree, far more than the 48.8% national figure. Similarly, the typical household in Virginia earns $66,262 a year, about $10,500 more than the national median household income.

Virginia’s students outperform many of their peers nationwide in a number of academic measures. An estimated 47.3% of fourth graders and 37.6% of eighth graders in the state are proficient in math, compared to 39.4% of fourth and 32.1% of eighth graders nationwide. In high school, 47.4% of advanced placement tests taken by 11th and 12th graders earn a 3 or above, the largest share of any state other than Maryland.

Champaign-Urbana, Illinois
Source: Thinkstock

15. Illinois
> Overall grade: C+
> Per pupil spending: $12,753 (19th highest)
> High school graduation rate: 85.6% (22nd highest)
> Pct. 3 & 4 yr. olds enrolled in preschool: 53.4% (6th highest)

With an overall grade of C+, Illinois’ education system rates slightly better than that of the United States as a whole, which earned a C grade from Education Week’s Quality Counts 2017 survey. The state scores average or better than average in important measures. For example, Illinois has a preschool enrollment rate of 53.4%, which is sixth highest among states. Close to 35% of advanced placement tests taken in Illinois score a 3 or better, the ninth best share among states.

While wealthier districts nationwide tend to have higher revenues than poorer districts, Illinois’ low-income districts are even more poorly funded relative to the wealthiest districts than in other parts of the country.