States With the Best (and Worst) Schools

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1. Massachusetts
> High school graduation rate: 87.5% (13th highest)
> Public school spending: $14,569 per pupil (11th highest)
> 8th grade NAEP proficiency: 50.8% (math) 45.7% (reading)
> Adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 42.7% (the highest)
> Adults 25-64 with incomes at or above national median: 62.6% (the highest)

Massachusetts has the nation’s best schools, according to the latest EdWeek ranking of state public education systems. Even top-ranked states in education do not necessarily lead uniformly in the three categories measured — chances of success, school finance, and achievements — but Massachusetts does.

Parent education levels, for example, which are among the best predictors of student success, are among the highest in Massachusetts. Of children in the state, 63.4% have at least one parent with a college degree, the fourth highest such share of all states. Per-pupil spending in the state, at $14,569, while not in the top 10 is still well above the national average per-pupil expenditure of $12,526. Also, overall K-12 student achievement in Massachusetts is better than in any other state. Half or more of fourth and eighth graders in Massachusetts are proficient in math. For reference, only about 39% of fourth graders and 32% of eighth graders nationwide are proficient in math.

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2. New Jersey
> High school graduation rate: 90.1% (2nd highest)
> Public school spending: $16,337 per pupil (6th highest)
> 8th grade NAEP proficiency: 46.2% (math) 40.6% (reading)
> Adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 38.6% (4th highest)
> Adults 25-64 with incomes at or above national median: 60.0% (4th highest)

Like many states in the Northeast, New Jersey has among the highest per-pupil spending levels in the country. Adjusted for regional cost differences, the state public school system spends about $16,300 per pupil, sixth most in the country. Of the state’s total taxable resources, 4.8% goes towards education, second highest percentage in the country after only Vermont.

Higher spending on public education does not always guarantee better outcomes, but in New Jersey, the higher funding appears to have translated to good outcomes. The state’s fourth and eighth-grade students are among the top 10 in NAEP math and reading proficiency, and 16.3% of eighth graders are advanced in math, the second highest percentage among states.

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3. Vermont
> High school graduation rate: 87.7% (11th highest)
> Public school spending: $20,795 per pupil (the highest)
> 8th grade NAEP proficiency: 42.1% (math) 43.8% (reading)
> Adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 36.4% (8th highest)
> Adults 25-64 with incomes at or above national median: 53.4% (17th highest)

Vermont’s annual per pupil spending of $20,795 is the highest of all states. The public education investment, which funds school staff, supplies, and supports pre-K and kindergarten programs, helps make the state’s schools third best in the nation. The percentage of eligible students enrolled in pre-K and kindergarten programs, at 56.6% and 83.0%, respectively, are each among the highest of all states.

Equity in education funding has been a long-standing concern in the United States, and no state has particularly well-distributed educational resources or outcomes. However, by some measures Vermont’s school system is more equitable than most. For instance, the gap in test scores of children in low-income families and their higher income peers is close to the smallest of all states.

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4. New Hampshire
> High school graduation rate: 88.2% (9th highest)
> Public school spending: $15,719 per pupil (8th highest)
> 8th grade NAEP proficiency: 46.3% (math) 45.0% (reading)
> Adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 36.6% (7th highest)
> Adults 25-64 with incomes at or above national median: 57.4% (7th highest)

Parent education levels are among the best predictors of student success. In New Hampshire, close to two-thirds of children have at least one parent with a college degree, the highest proportion of all states, versus approximately half of children nationwide. A college education is one of the most reliable paths to gainful employment and financial stability, which in turn help families provide resources to support the success of children. Of children in New Hampshire, 77.3% are in families with incomes at least twice the poverty level, the highest such percentage of all states. The way in which resources lead to achievement is complicated, but financial stability can increase the likelihood of academic success. New Hampshire has the nation’s lowest poverty rate, at 7.3% of all residents.

Likely due in part to this strong foundation, New Hampshire student achievements on standardized tests are some of the highest in the country. For example, 45.9% and 45.0% of fourth and eighth graders are proficient in reading — each second largest share among states.

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5. Connecticut
> High school graduation rate: 87.4% (15th highest)
> Public school spending: $17,283 per pupil (5th highest)
> 8th grade NAEP proficiency: 36.1% (math) 43.3% (reading)
> Adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 38.6% (4th highest)
> Adults 25-64 with incomes at or above national median: 61.5% (3rd highest)

Preschool can be important for childhood development, and in Connecticut, a larger share of children gain this advantage than in any other state. Of the state’s 3- and 4-year-olds, 65.6% are enrolled in preschool, compared to the 47.7% of the nation’s preschool aged children. Kindergarten enrollment in the state, at 80.7%, is third highest in the country.

The strong early childhood education programs in the state may partially explain students’ success in later years. For example, 43.5% of fourth graders and 43.3% of eighth graders in the state’s public schools are proficient in reading, each the fourth largest share of any state and well above the comparable nationwide shares of 34.8% and 32.7%, respectively. Additionally, the state’s public schools report more high scoring advanced placement test scores — adjusted to the 11th and 12th grade student body — than all but two other states.