States With the Best (and Worst) Schools

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6. Maryland
> High school graduation rate: 87.6% (12th highest)
> Public school spending: $13,075 per pupil (19th highest)
> 8th grade NAEP proficiency: 34.7% (math) 37.4% (reading)
> Adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 39.3% (3rd highest)
> Adults 25-64 with incomes at or above national median: 61.6% (2nd highest)

Maryland’s education system ranks as sixth best in the country and the best among southern states. The typical Maryland household earns $78,945 a year, the highest median income of any state. With a strong tax base, Maryland’s education spending is relatively high. The state allocates about 3.7% of its taxable resources to education, more than the 3.3% average among states. Monetarily, the state spends $13,075 per pupil per year, about $500 more than is typical.

By several measures, Maryland public schools are high achieving. The state boasts the best ratio of high scoring AP tests per 100 11th and 12th graders in the country. Additionally, some 87.6% of high school students in the state graduate with a diploma, compared to only 84.1% of high schoolers nationwide.

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7. Wyoming
> High school graduation rate: 80.0% (12th lowest)
> Public school spending: $17,700 per pupil (4th highest)
> 8th grade NAEP proficiency: 35.3% (math) 36.0% (reading)
> Adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 27.1% (11th lowest)
> Adults 25-64 with incomes at or above national median: 51.7% (21st highest)

Wyoming is the only state entirely located west of the Mississippi River with a public school system that ranks among the nation’s 10 best. While the connection between school spending and educational outcomes is a matter for debate, Wyoming allocates a larger than typical share of its budget to its public school system. Some 4.7% of Wyoming’s taxable resources goes towards education — higher than the average spending across all states of 3.3% and the fourth largest share among states. Partially as a result, every public school student in the state benefits from greater spending on a per pupil basis than the national average.

Wyoming public school students are also more likely than most to meet some important achievement targets. For example, 41.2% of fourth graders in the state are proficient in reading, and 35.3% of eighth graders are proficient in math, compared to the respective 34.8% and 32.1% shares nationwide.

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8. Pennsylvania
> High school graduation rate: 86.1% (21st highest)
> Public school spending: $15,291 per pupil (9th highest)
> 8th grade NAEP proficiency: 36.0% (math) 39.1% (reading)
> Adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 30.8% (22nd highest)
> Adults 25-64 with incomes at or above national median: 53.2% (18th highest)

The majority of the best public school systems are clustered in the Northeast — and Pennsylvania’s is one of them. As is the case in most states with strong public school systems, Pennsylvania schools are well funded. About 95% of public school students in the state attend districts with higher than average per-pupil expenditures.

Public school students in the state are more likely to be able to read at the appropriate level than students in the vast majority of other states. Some 41.2% of fourth graders and 39.1% of eighth graders in the state are proficient in reading, each the seventh largest shares among states.

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9. New York
> High school graduation rate: 80.4% (13th lowest)
> Public school spending: $18,665 per pupil (3rd highest)
> 8th grade NAEP proficiency: 30.9% (math) 32.8% (reading)
> Adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 35.7% (9th highest)
> Adults 25-64 with incomes at or above national median: 55.0% (13th highest)

Equity has been a long-standing concern in the U.S. education system. And while education resources are not distributed perfectly in any state, some states do far more than others to narrow the gap. New York, home to the largest city in the nation, is one such state. Between 2003 and 2015, the achievement gap between eighth graders living in poverty and their wealthier peers narrowed by the largest amount of all states. Widely accessible, free to the public preschool likely helped shrink achievement gaps. Just over 58% of 3- and 4-year old children in New York are enrolled in preschool, the third highest percentage of all states. Well-funded public school systems in turn help provide these early education programs. Annual public school funding totals $18,665 per pupil in New York, the third highest expenditure of all states.

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10. Minnesota
> High school graduation rate: 82.2% (16th lowest)
> Public school spending: $12,692 per pupil (22nd highest)
> 8th grade NAEP proficiency: 47.8% (math) 39.7% (reading)
> Adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 34.8% (11th highest)
> Adults 25-64 with incomes at or above national median: 58.1% (6th highest)

Children raised by parents who are relatively financially secure and well educated are often better equipped to succeed academically. In Minnesota, 64.1% of children are raised by at least one parent with a college degree or higher, the second largest such share of any state. Additionally, 69.4% of children in the state live in families with incomes that are at least double the poverty level — one of the largest such shares of any state. Partially as a result, public school students in the state report near nation-leading outcomes in some measures. For example, 53.4% of fourth graders and 47.8% of eighth graders are proficient in math, each the second highest share of any state, trailing only Massachusetts.

While large shares of students in Minnesota have relatively stable home lives, not all benefit from equal funding at school. The best funded school districts in Minnesota receive about $4,290 more in funding per pupil then those with the lowest funding. Partially as a result, only about 45% of students in the state live in districts with above average per-pupil spending.