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“Education Week’s” Best School Systems in the Nation

A+ grade written on a test paper.


Staff Report

Last week The City Sentinel reported the worst performers in Education Week magazine’18th annual survey of America’s schools, which ranked poorly compared to most developed nations. Oklahoma schools received a C grade, placing the state at 10th worst in the country.

Still, it found bright spots in the Sooner State. It praised Oklahoma’s standards, assessments and accountability.

The education news and research publication’s 18th annual survey reflects the status of education in all 50 states.

The K-12 Achievement Index is one indicator in Education Week’s “Quality Counts” report that measures key education outcomes and provides ranks and grades for each state based on their commitment to

Improve educational policies and practices.

This week, we report the nation’s top performing states, so perhaps we can get a glimpse into what other states area doing right. Colorado came in No.10. Massachusetts won first prize.

Consistently, issues which factored into high performance appear to be high standards, high graduation rates, high percentage of preschool attendance, high rate of parental attainment of postsecondary degrees,


10. Colorado

State score: 74.2 (tied for 10th highest)

High school graduation rate: 75.6% (25th best)

per pupil expenditure: $9,160 (9th lowest)

Preschool enrollment: 48.1% (23rd highest)

Nearly 48% of adults in Colorado had completed a postsecondary degree as of 2012, the second-highest rate of adult educational attainment in the country and a good indicator of the success of the state’s schools. Despite scoring relatively high, Colorado’s school system still has room to improve. The state was among a minority of states that did not determine grade-specific standards in English and mathematics in 2012. Further, Education Week assessed the state’s efforts to improve teaching very poorly, with a D.


9. Washington

State score: 74.9

High school graduation rate: 72.1% (15th worst)

per pupil expenditure: $9,262 (11th lowest)

Preschool enrollment: 41.1% (13th lowest)

Of the six major categories covered by Education Week, Washington received the highest grade in the chance for success category, which measures family background and employment opportunities, receiving a B−. Educational attainment and the proportion of annual incomes exceeding the national median among adults in the state, for example, were above the national average, at 43.4% and 55.5%, respectively. Over the past decade, the proportion of Washington middle school students performing at an advanced level in mathematics increased more than the vast majority of states. Between 2003 and 2013, the proportion of eighth graders scoring at the highest levels on national assessments improved by 5.7 percentage points.


8. Pennsylvania

State score: 75.6

High school graduation rate: 83.0% (6th best)

per pupil expenditure: $13,741 (12th highest)

Preschool enrollment: 48.5% (tied for 18th highest)

More than 40% of Pennsylvania middle schoolers were proficient in mathematics and reading at the eighth grade level in 2013, both among the best in the country. Over the 10-year period between 2003 and 2013, Pennsylvania did a better job than any other state of closing the reading gap — the disparity between the reading ability of affluent and that of less-affluent children. The gap is widening across the nation, but in Pennsylvania, it has narrowed considerably.


7. Florida

State score: 75.8

High school graduation rate: 72.9% (17th worst)

per pupil expenditure: $9,752 (15th lowest)

Preschool enrollment: 50.8% (tied for 11th highest)

Florida was one of just a few states to receive an A in the transitions and alignment category, which measures how schools manage students’ transitions between the school systems and secondary education or employment. To smooth transitions between school, postsecondary institutions and the workforce, Florida uses high school assessments to aid postsecondary decisions, one of a few states to do so. Florida school systems received among the highest marks in the country in equity and spending indicators, indicating that funds are well distributed across school districts in the state.


6. Minnesota

State score: 76.7

High school graduation rate: 80.4% (10th best)

per pupil expenditure: $11,043 (24th lowest)

Preschool enrollment: 46.9% (24th highest)

Nearly 60% of fourth graders in Minnesota were proficient in math, based on 2013 national assessment scores, better than every other state in the country. That year, 47.2% of eighth graders were also proficient in math, third highest in the nation. In December of last year, a study by the Minnesota Department of Education found a vast improvement in the chances of Minnesota children starting kindergarten to succeed on third grade achievement tests compared to roughly a decade ago. Minnesota scored well in other indicators for success, including educational attainment among parents. More than 60% of children had at least one parent with a postsecondary degree in 2012, the third-highest proportion in the country.


5. Vermont

State score: 77.3

High school graduation rate: 85.0% (the best)

per pupil expenditure: $17,388 (3rd highest)

Preschool enrollment: 50.8% (tied for 11th highest)

Vermont spent 5.5% of taxable resources on education in 2011, the highest proportion in the country. That year, per pupil spending in the state was the third highest nationally, at $17,388. Some 85% of Vermont public high school students in the class of 2010 received a diploma, the best graduation rate in the country that year, and more than 10 percentage points better than all U.S. high school students. Additionally, 14.2% of eighth graders performed at an advanced level on national assessments last year, fourth highest in the nation. Vermont also has shown its school systems can be innovative. Five years ago, in an effort to reform several failing elementary schools, Vermont introduced the nation’s first sustainability-themed public elementary school. Today, the school is thriving with coveted teaching positions and a long waiting list for kindergarten.


4. New Hampshire

State score: 78.8

High school graduation rate: 78.3% (18th best)

per pupil expenditure: $14,556 (9th highest)

Preschool enrollment: 51.9% (8th highest)

Unlike the most of states, New Hampshire did not require formal evaluations of teachers in 2012. This may partly explain the state’s D grade in Education Week’s teacher profession category, worse than nearly every other state. New Hampshire students, however, perform very well on standardized tests. Nearly 59% of fourth graders were proficient in math in 2013, second only to Minnesota. Fourth graders in the state were also second in the nation in reading ability, with nearly 45% demonstrating reading proficiency on national assessments in 2013.


3. New Jersey

State score: 82.1

High school graduation rate: 83.1% (5th best)

per pupil expenditure: $14,920 (6th highest)

Preschool enrollment: 63.4% (2nd highest)

The proportion of New Jersey eighth graders performing at an advanced level on math sections of national tests increased by 9.2 percentage points in the past 10 years, more than double the rate of improvement nationwide. Last year, 46.3% of New Jersey’s eighth graders were proficient in math, second only to Massachusetts. New Jersey scored in the top 10 in all four spending indicators measured by Education Week. The state spent nearly 5% of its taxable resources on K-12 schooling that year, second only to Vermont. However, Education Week graded New Jersey’s management of its teachers among the worst in 2012. Recently, as part of Governor Chris Christie’s focus on education, the state has introduced teacher tenure programs that aim to make it more difficult for mediocre teachers to continue teaching poorly.


2. Maryland

State score: 83.1

High school graduation rate: 78.6% (17th best)

per pupil expenditure: $13,060 (16th highest)

Preschool enrollment: 49.2% (15th highest)

The state performed remarkably well in Education Week’s measure of public school achievement. Nearly 45% of fourth graders were proficient in reading based on 2013 national assessments, the highest in the nation and more than 10 percentage points better than the national average. The state actually scored better than the average state in all six major categories Education Week measures. Maryland’s grade in facilitating student transitions between schools and into the professional world was second best in the country. In 2013, for example, high school students in the state were able to earn credits towards Maryland’s postsecondary system, one of only eight states to enact such a policy.


1. Massachusetts

State score: 83.7

High school graduation rate: 79.9% (14th best)

per pupil expenditure: $13,127 (15th highest)

Preschool enrollment: 59.4% (3rd highest)

As it did last year, Massachusetts received the highest grades of any state for its student achievement and chance for success. Massachusetts elementary students also outperformed those in every other state in reading proficiency, as did middle schoolers in mathematics. Last year, the number of advanced scores on national assessments more than doubled in the state, a larger increase than any other state. More than 18% of eighth graders achieved an advanced level in math that year, the highest proportion to achieve such excellence in the country. The percentage of children with at least one parent who works full time and the percentage of children with at least one parent who has earned a postsecondary degree were higher than every other state in the nation.


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