Special Report

States With the Best (and Worst) Schools

Indianapolis, Indiana
Source: Thinkstock

21. Indiana
> Overall grade: C
> Per pupil spending: $11,087 (21st lowest)
> High school graduation rate: 87.1% (15th highest)
> Pct. 3 & 4 yr. olds enrolled in preschool: 39.0% (9th lowest)

Indiana’s per-pupil expenditure of $11,087 a year, and median household income of $50,532 a year are each lower than the respective national amounts of $12,156 and $55,775. School funding and family wealth can be reliable predictors of student achievement. However, Indiana is one of just a handful of states where per-pupil spending and household income are below average, yet students score better on standardized tests than their peers in most other states. Fourth and eighth grade students in Indiana are far more likely to score well on reading and mathematics proficiency exams than those in most other states.

Cleveland, Ohio, Cuyahoga County
Source: Thinkstock

22. Ohio
> Overall grade: C
> Per pupil spending: $12,208 (23rd highest)
> High school graduation rate: 80.7% (17th lowest)
> Pct. 3 & 4 yr. olds enrolled in preschool: 45.2% (24th highest)

With an overall score of C on Education Week’s Quality Counts report, the Ohio school system is fairly average in comparison to the country as a whole. Schools in the state spend an average of $12,208 per student a year, roughly in line with the $12,156 per-pupil expenditure nationwide. Funding is fairly equal across the state, and 36.9% of students attend school in districts with above average per-pupil expenditure, roughly the same as the 38.6% national figure.

Students living with wealthy, educated, English-speaking parents are often more likely succeed academically than those without. One of Ohio’s notable demographic features is that only 4.7% of children have parents who do not speak fluent English, compared to 16.9% nationwide.

montana-state-university
Source: Tim Evanson / Wikimedia Commons

23. Montana
> Overall grade: C
> Per pupil spending: $13,800 (14th highest)
> High school graduation rate: 86.0% (19th highest)
> Pct. 3 & 4 yr. olds enrolled in preschool: 37.0% (5th lowest)

Early childhood education — kindergarten and pre-K — can be valuable to cognitive development. It can also help fight some of the disadvantages faced by children in low-income families. Montana has very low enrollment rates for both. Just 37.0% of Montana’s preschool-age children and 73.4% of kindergarten-eligible children are enrolled in the respective systems, each the fifth lowest share in the country.

State children may be more likely to get the help and support they need at home when they do start school. About 60% of Montana’s students have at least one parent with a college degree, the 10th highest share among states.

Juneau City and Borough, Alaska
Source: Thinkstock

24. Alaska
> Overall grade: C
> Per pupil spending: $19,000 (2nd highest)
> High school graduation rate: 75.6% (5th lowest)
> Pct. 3 & 4 yr. olds enrolled in preschool: 37.7% (8th lowest)

More is spent on education per student in Alaska than in every other state except for Vermont. State schools spend $19,000 per student per year, far higher than the $12,156 average expenditure nationwide. Because of the state’s climate and vast size, transportation and facility costs are high, largely explaining the state’s high per-pupil school spending.

In Alaska, fourth grade students are far less likely to be proficient in math and reading than fourth graders nationwide. Though this achievement gap in reading and math improves significantly by eighth grade, students in Alaska are still less likely to be proficient in the subjects than students nationwide.

Colorado University campus, Boulder, Colorado
Source: Thinkstock

25. Colorado
> Overall grade: C
> Per pupil spending: $9,471 (11th lowest)
> High school graduation rate: 77.3% (6th lowest)
> Pct. 3 & 4 yr. olds enrolled in preschool: 52.6% (8th highest)

Children whose parents have a higher education are more likely to succeed academically. While less than half of children nationwide have at least one parent with a college degree, 57.3% of Colorado children have at least one college-educated parent. Spending more on students does not guarantee a quality education, but states where less is spent per student tend to have worse educational outcomes. Colorado allocates relatively little to its students compared to other states. Total per-pupil expenditure in the state comes to $9,471 per year, compared to the national per-pupil expenditure of $12,156.

Educational outcomes in Colorado are mixed. More than a third of all 11th and 12th grade advanced placement test results in the state are high enough to earn college credit, far more than the 29% national average. While some students are high achieving, a relatively large share are not. Colorado’s 77.3% graduation rate is one of the lowest in the country.