Special Report

The Best School District in Every State

Detailed Findings & Methodology

Approximately 43% of school funding comes from state governments. Just as the quality of school districts vary heavily within a state, the quality of state education systems vary heavily across the country. In a report provided by Education Week ranking statewide education systems, states such as Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York rank as some of the states with the best schools. Meanwhile, states such as Texas, California, Arizona, and Alabama rank towards the bottom.

Of the top 100 ranked school districts in the country, 29 are in New York, 18 are in New Jersey, 14 are in Ohio, and 11 are in Massachusetts. Of the 100 worst ranked school districts, 11 are in Texas, eight are in California, and Maine, Arizona, and Alabama are each home to six.

Similarly, the top school district in one state may be far worse than the top school in another state. The top ranked school district in Montana, for example, would rank as the 166th best school district in New York state.

School spending contributes to better student outcomes, and is one of the largest contributors to the disparity in academic success across the country. With greater funding, schools can afford better teachers, state-of-the-art educational technology, and other resources that help students succeed. In 34 of the 50 school districts with the highest per-pupil spending, the graduation rate is above the 78.2% national figure. In 12 of the 50 districts with lowest spending, the graduation rate is below the national value.

While school spending, the availability of AP classes, and preschool enrollment can all contribute to student success and determine the level of quality of a school district, certain socioeconomic factors also play a major role. Two factors included in the index — adult college attainment rate and child poverty rate — have a major impact on the likelihood of a student’s success in school.

Educated parents are more likely to read to their children, and enhance their children’s development by exposing them to more complex speech patterns and a broader vocabulary. Of the 50 districts with the largest shares of adults with a bachelor’s degree, 49 have graduation rates above the national rate.

Family income may have the largest direct impact on a student’s academic outcomes. Parents with greater financial resources have the ability to move to more expensive communities with better schools. They can also afford resources to better their child’s education such as tutoring and other extracurricular activities.

Of the 50 districts with the highest child poverty rate — the share of children aged 5 to 17 living with their family who are in poverty — 37 have lower graduation rates than the nation as a whole. All of the 50 districts with the smallest shares of children living in poverty have graduation rates above the national rate, and 17 have graduations rates of 100%.

To determine the worst school district in every state, 24/7 Wall St. developed an index
based on various socioeconomic measures, school finance, student success, and environmental factors. The share of children aged 5 to 17 living with their family who are in poverty as of 2016 came from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates program and was included in the index. Per-pupil expenditure for 2015 came from the Census Bureau’s Annual Survey of School System Finances and was included in the index. The percentage of high school students who graduated on time in the 2009-10 school year came from the National Center for Education Statistics and was included in the index. The number of teachers per student in the 2015-16 school year also came from the NCES and was included in the index. The share of adults aged 25 and over with at least a bachelor’s degree and the share of 3 and 4 year-olds enrolled in school came from the Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey and were included in the index. Additionally, the share of high school students enrolled in AP classes in 2013 came from the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection and was included in the index. All data are for the most recent period available.

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