Securing a child’s academic success begins with choosing the right schools. But how can parents decide where to enroll their kids? Because children develop and learn at different rates, the ideal answer to that question varies based on each student’s needs. Those needs have become even more specialized this year as families grapple with the impact of the COVID-19 crisis and school administrators wait to see whether they will be able to hold in-person learning.
Based on how schools handle coronavirus, some parents may decide to move their children to different schools in the future. Unfortunately, most parents can’t afford to place their children in exclusive, private or preparatory schools that give their students greater individual attention. For the majority of U.S. families, public education is the only option. But the quality of public school systems varies widely from state to state and is often a question of funding. Public elementary and secondary education money usually flows from three sources: the federal, state and local governments. According to the U.S. Department of Education, states contribute nearly as much as local governments, while the federal government supplies the smallest share. Some researchers have found that more resources — or taxes paid by residents — typically result in better school-system performance.
Unlike other research that focuses primarily on academic outcomes or school finance, WalletHub’s analysis takes a more comprehensive approach. It accounts for performance, funding, safety, class size and instructor credentials. To determine the top-performing school systems in America, WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across 33 key metrics. Read on for our findings, expert insight from a panel of researchers and a full description of our methodology.
Public School Ranking by State
(1 = Best)
|State||Total Score||'Quality' Rank||'Safety' Rank|
|41||District of Columbia||42.38||41||44|
Note: Spendings Ranking refers to “Total Current Expenditures for Public Elementary and Secondary Day Schools per Student” (Highest Amount = Rank 1)
Giving students a good education is crucial for the future of the country. That responsibility falls to parents, educators and leaders alike. To expand the discussion, we asked a panel of experts to share their thoughts on the following key questions:
- Does variation in per-pupil spending explain most of the variation in school quality?
- What can state and local policymakers do to improve their school systems without raising taxes?
- In setting a child up for success, how important is the quality of the school relative to other factors (family, neighborhood, etc.)?
- In evaluating the best and worst school systems, what are the top five indicators?
- As a result of COVID-19, education has changed dramatically. What are the biggest educational challenges that have emerged and how can they be overcome? Will the educational system undertake a decisive long-term shift towards e-learning?
Ask the Experts
In order to determine the best and worst states for public-school education, WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across two key dimensions, “Quality” and “Safety.”
We evaluated those dimensions using 33 relevant metrics, which are listed below with their corresponding weights. Each metric was graded on a 100-point scale, with a score of 100 representing the highest quality of public K–12 education.
Finally, we determined each state and the District’s weighted average across all metrics to calculate its overall score and used the resulting scores to rank-order our sample.
Quality - Total Points: 80
- Presence of Public Schools in “Top 700 Best U.S. Schools”: Full Weight (~3.64 Points)
Note: This metric measures the number of public schools in U.S. News & World Report's "Top 700 Best U.S. Schools" ranking adjusted by the number of public schools for each state in the U.S. News & World Report sample.
- Blue Ribbon Schools per Capita: Full Weight (~3.64 Points)
Note: The National Blue Ribbon Schools Program recognizes public and private elementary, middle, and high schools based on their overall academic excellence or their progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups.
- High School Graduation Rate Among Low-Income Students: Full Weight (~3.64 Points)
- Projected High School Graduation Rate Increase Between 2019-2020 and 2031-2032 School Years: Full Weight (~3.64 Points)
- Dropout Rate: Double Weight (~7.27 Points)
- Math Test Scores: Double Weight (~7.27 Points)
Note: This metric measures the scores earned by fourth and eighth graders.
- Reading Test Scores: Double Weight (~7.27 Points)
Note: This metric measures the scores earned by fourth and eighth graders.
- Share of 2019 High School Class Scoring “3” or Higher on Advanced Placement Exams: Double Weight (~7.27 Points)
- Median SAT Score: Double Weight (~7.27 Points)
- Median ACT Score: Double Weight (~7.27 Points)
- Share of High School Graduates Who Completed ACT and/or SAT: Double Weight (~7.27 Points)
Note: For this metric, the percentage sum may be larger than 100 percent, considering some students completed both standardized tests. However, no data specifying the number of students who did so are available.
- Division of SAT Results by Percentile: Full Weight (~3.64 Points)
- Division of ACT Results by Percentile: Full Weight (~3.64 Points)
- Pupil-Teacher Ratio: Full Weight (~3.64 Points)
- Share of Licensed/Certified Public K–12 Teachers: Full Weight (~3.64 Points)
Safety - Total Points: 20
- Statewide School Closure due to COVID-19: Double Weight (~2.00 Points)
Note: This metric measures whether a state has ordered/recommended the closure of all public schools.
- 1 - State has ordered closure;
- 0.5 - State had but lifted order to close;
- 0 - State has recommended closure.
- Existence of Digital Learning Plan: Full Weight (~1.00 Points)
Note: This binary metric measures whether a state has guidelines in place for comprehensive strategies for schools deploying technology, trainings for teachers, and instructional resources for building remote lesson plans.
- State Statute on Out of School Access to Instructional Materials: Full Weight (~1.00 Points)
Note: This binary metric measures whether a state is ensuring digital content and instructional materials are available outside of the classroom.
- State Guidance on Accessible Technologies: Full Weight (~1.00 Points)
Note: This binary metric measures whether a state has accessibility assurance to acceptable technologies for providing instructional content.
- Share of Threatened/Injured High School Students: Double Weight (~2.00 Points)
Note: This metric measures the share of public school students in grades 9 to 12 who reported being threatened or injured with a weapon on school property.
- Share of High School Students Not Attending School Due to Safety Concerns: Full Weight (~1.00 Points)
Note: This metric measures the share of public school students in grades 9 to 12 who reported not attending school because they felt unsafe at or on their way to or from school.
- Share of Children Whose Parents Agree Their Children Go to Safe Schools: Full Weight (~1.00 Points)
Note: Share of children aged 6-17 years whose parents definitely agree that their children are safe at school.
- Share of High School Students with Access to Illegal Drugs: Full Weight (~1.00 Points)
Note: This metric measures the share of public school students in grades 9 to 12 who reported that illegal drugs were made available to them on school property.
- Share of High School Students Participating in Violence: Full Weight (~1.00 Points)
Note: This metric measures the share of public school students in grades 9 to 12 who reported involvement in a physical fight at least once during the previous 12 months on school property.
- Share of Armed High School Students: Full Weight (~1.00 Points)
Note: This metric measures the share of public school students in grades 9 to 12 who reported carrying a weapon on school property.
- Number of School Shootings (2000-present (June 2, 2020)): Full Weight (~1.00 Points)
- Presence of Adopted and Enacted Laws Regulating Mandatory School Resource Officers: Full Weight (~1.00 Points)
- Bullying Incidence Rate: Double Weight (~2.00 Points)
- Disciplinary Incidence Rate: Full Weight (~1.00 Points)
Note: Rate measured per 100,000 students.
- Youth Incarceration Rate: Full Weight (~1.00 Points)
Note: Rate measured per 100,000 population aged 20 years and younger.
- School Safety Plan Requirement: Full Weight (~1.00 Points)
Note: This binary metric measures whether a state requires or not a school safety plan.
- School Safety Audit Requirement: Half Weight (~0.50 Points)
Note: This binary metric measures whether a state requires or not a school safety audit.
- Safety Grade of Roads Around School: Half Weight (~0.50 Points)
Note: School safety scores and rankings are based on unsafe driving events detected by the Zendrive platform within school areas.
Sources: Data used to create this ranking were collected from the U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Department of Education, National Conference of State Legislatures, National Center for Education Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative, Education Commission of the States, U.S. News & World Report, College Board, Ballotpedia, ACT, National Governors Association, State Educational Technology Directors Association and Zendrive.