The states with the best schools, 2015

<a href="http://bit.ly/1a5CAfj" target="_blank">Thomas C. Frohlich</a> and <a href="http://bit.ly/1AVZvXm" target="_blank">Alexander Kent</a>

As legions of parents nationwide know by now, the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association have worked to create a states-led program called the Common Core State Standards. Common Core is intended to ensure that all American children receive a quality, rigorous education.

The hope is that the nation will stop losing ground among developed nations in promoting strong education for its children.

The U.S. still has a way to go, but based on this year’s edition of Quality Counts, released by Education Week, the nation is improving: It earned a C for its school systems, up from a C- last year. And no state scored a failing grade this year; last year, Mississippi did.

Yahoo Homes is publishing the 10 states with the best schools below. To see the 10 states with the worst schools, visit 247WallSt.com:

Education Week’s grading framework incorporates three components: Chance for Success, K-12 Achievement, and School Finances. According to Sterling Lloyd, senior research associate at the Education Week Research Center, the new index looks at a range of factors to assess education’s impact from “cradle to career.”

Income can play a major role in a child’s success in school. “Research tells us that students who are in stable communities and in higher-income families [tend to] have better educational success later on,” Lloyd said, though he cautioned that "we’re not talking about demography as destiny." While the relationship is far from simple, children from wealthier families are often exposed to more enriching activities and often have greater stability within their family lives.

Parents play perhaps the largest role in the development of their children. Just as a higher family income may help increase the advantages for students, well-educated parents can also often improve a child’s chance for success. A child has “greater advantages when you can draw upon a foundation of knowledge and [when] teachers are not having to address deficiencies in learning once kids get to school,” according to Lloyd.

In all of the top states for education, more than half of children had at least one parent with a post-secondary degree.

More generous school budgets also often correlate with stronger educational outcomes. The best statewide school systems tended to spend far more than the national district average of $11,735 per pupil in 2012 (the latest year for which figures were available). Vermont, for example, led the nation with a per-pupil expenditure of $18,882. Only about 43 percent of the nation's children live in districts where per-pupil spending outstrips the national average.

Yet Lloyd added that “the precise relationship between funding and academic achievement is a perennial debate among researchers. There’s not a consensus.” Idaho had nearly the lowest average education expenditure, for example — but more than 38% of its eighth-graders were proficient on national reading exams in 2013, better than their peers nationwide.

Still, on the whole, students in school districts with greater resources performed better on national tests. At least 40% of fourth-grade students in nine of the 10 top states were proficient on the National Assessment of Educational Progress versus the national rate of 34%.

To identify the states with the best and worst schools, 24/7 Wall St. used Education Week’s Quality Counts 2015 report. The report is based on three major categories, each of which was weighted equally in determining the final ranking:

Chance for Success. This category includes data on family income, parent education and employment, child schooling, and employment opportunities after college. Graduation rates are defined as the percentage of ninth-graders who graduated high school in four years, and are for the class of 2012. All other data are for 2013 and are based on Education Week’s analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Finances. This category incorporates metrics on cost-adjusted per-pupil spending and how equitably spending was distributed across districts in the state in 2012.

K-12 Achievement. This category uses test score data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Test score data are for 2013.

These are the states with the best schools.

Lake Superior, Minnesota.
Lake Superior, Minnesota.

10. Minnesota
Overall grade: B-
State score: 79.9
Per-pupil spending: $11,547 (25th highest)
High school graduation rate: 88.0% (7th highest)
Eighth-graders proficient in math or reading: 47.2% (3rd highest)

Minnesota’s school systems received a B- in Education Week’s report, which ranked them 10th in the country. One reason the state’s schools are so strong is likely the high educational attainment of the students’ parents. As of 2013, nearly 62% of children had at least one parent with a post-secondary degree, the highest proportion in the country. While Minnesota’s per pupil spending was in line with the rest of the nation in 2012, the distribution of school funding was more equitable in the country, with less than $3,700 per pupil separating the state’s best- and worst-funded schools. The consistent funding and childrens’ strong foundation at home likely helped students’ performance. In 2013, nearly half of all eighth-graders were proficient on national standardized tests.

The New York Capitol in Albany.
The New York Capitol in Albany.

9. New York
Overall grade: B-
State score: 80.0
Per-pupil spending: $17,326 (4th highest)
High school graduation rate: 78.0% (17th lowest)
Eighth-graders proficient in math or reading: 32.3% (18th lowest)

New York school districts spent an average of $17,326 per pupil in 2012, with all districts spending more than the national average expenditure of $11,735 per pupil. New York is able to spend so much money per student mostly because it commits a relatively large portion of its budget to education. The state spent 4.3% of its GDP on education in 2012, the fifth highest share in the country. Additionally, parents were highly likely to enroll their children in early education programs. Nearly 58% of eligible children were enrolled in preschool and 79% in kindergarten in 2013, among the highest proportions in the country. Despite the high levels of education spending, New York students’ scores on standardized tests overall were on par or even lower than the national averages in 2013.

The Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg.
The Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg.

8. Pennsylvania
Overall grade: B-
State score: 80.1
Per-pupil spending: $13,653 (11th highest)
High school graduation rate: 88.0% (7th highest)
Eighth-graders proficient in math or reading: 41.9% (6th highest)

While Pennsylvania school districts spent an average of $13,653 per pupil in 2013, nearly $2,000 more per student than the national average, not all school districts could afford to spend so much. More than 26% of students lived in school districts that spent less per student than the national average, the second-highest proportion among the 10 states with the best schools. Nevertheless, 88% of students graduated high school with a diploma in four years, well above the national rate of 81%. Test scores for Pennsylvania’s public school students showed strong improvement between 2003 and 2013, rising at one of the faster rates in the country.

The Grand Tetons, Wyoming.
The Grand Tetons, Wyoming.

7. Wyoming
Overall grade: B-
State score: 80.6
Per-pupil spending: $17,758 (3rd highest)
High school graduation rate: 80.0% (24th lowest)
Eighth-graders proficient in math or reading: 37.8% (19th highest)

As in other well-graded state school systems, Wyoming schools had among the largest budgets nationwide in 2012. School districts spent an average of $17,758 per pupil, more than in all but two other states. Large expenditures do not always result in excellent test scores, however. While more than a quarter of 11th- and 12th-graders across the nation scored at least a three out of five on Advanced Placement tests, less than one in 10 did in Wyoming, exceptionally low compared to other states with high quality school systems. Still, Wyoming students are perhaps more likely to succeed than most American children. Nearly 84% of children had at least one parent working full-time and year-round — the second highest rate nationwide. This is a strong indicator of positive early foundations that often lead to student success.

A view over New Haven, Connecticut.
A view over New Haven, Connecticut.

6. Connecticut
Overall grade: B-
State score: 82.3
Per-pupil spending: $15,172 (6th highest)
High school graduation rate: 86.0% (12th highest)
Eighth-graders proficient in math or reading: 37.1% (21st highest)

More than 64% of three- and four-year old children in Connecticut were enrolled in preschool in 2013, a higher proportion than in any other state. Residents were also among the nation’s wealthiest. Nearly 60% of adults earned incomes above the national median, among the highest shares of any state. Similarly, nearly 70% of children had families with incomes that were at least 200% of the poverty level, also among the highest of any state. High incomes likely contributed to the state’s large school budgets, which in turn seem to have helped students perform better than their nationwide peers on standardized tests. While 34% of American fourth-graders were proficient on reading exams, nearly 43% of Connecticut fourth-graders were. High school students were also far more likely than their peers nationwide to excel on Advanced Placement tests.

Bath, New Hampshire.
Bath, New Hampshire.

5. New Hampshire
Overall grade: B-
State score: 82.3
Per-pupil spending: $14,561 (8th highest)
High school graduation rate: 87.0% (9th highest)
Eighth-graders proficient in math or reading: 46.8% (5th highest)

New Hampshire was one of only two states to receive an A- from Education Week in the Chance for Success category. Nearly 72% of children lived in families whose income was more than 200% of the poverty threshold in 2013, the highest rate in the country. While roughly 47% of children nationwide had at least one parent with a college degree, 61% of New Hampshire children did in 2013. Children living in such families are more likely to attend college later in life. As of 2013, nearly 64% of students aged 18-24 in New Hampshire were either enrolled in a post-secondary degree program or had a degree, among the highest rates. New Hampshire’s school finances are similarly strong. On average, school districts spent more than $14,500 per student in 2012. However, the distribution of that spending is troubling. The spending gap between the state’s top and bottom districts was more than $10,000 per pupil, nearly the largest in the country.

An aerial view of Chelsea in Vermont.
An aerial view of Chelsea in Vermont.

4. Vermont
Overall grade: B
State score: 83.0
Per-pupil spending: $18,882 (the highest)
High school graduation rate: 93.0% (the highest)
Eighth-graders proficient in math or reading: 46.9% (4th highest)

On average, Vermont school districts spent nearly $19,000 per pupil In 2012, more than in any other state. The state seems to prioritize education more than most, as Vermont spent more than 5% of its state GDP on education, also the most nationwide. While large budgets do not necessarily yield strong outcomes, Vermont students performed better than most of their peers in other states on national tests. Nearly 47% of eighth-graders were proficient in mathematics, for example, a higher proportion than in all but three other states. The state also had the nation’s highest four-year high school graduation rate, at 93% in 2012.

Main Street in Annapolis, Maryland.
Main Street in Annapolis, Maryland.

3. Maryland
Overall grade: B
State score: 85.2
Per-pupil spending: $12,435 (18th highest)
High school graduation rate: 84.0% (16th highest)

Nearly 51% of 11th-grader and 12th-graders in Maryland excelled on Advanced Placement tests in 2012, the only state where a majority of students performed better than average on Advanced Placement exams. Maryland also had the largest nationwide improvement in students’ Advanced Placement test scores between 2000 and 2012. Younger students also outperformed their peers on standardized tests. Nearly 45% of fourth-graders were proficient in reading, more than 10 percentage points higher than the national figure and second-highest nationwide. Unlike many other states with top-rated school systems, Maryland school financing was relatively well-distributed. The difference in per pupil spending between the worst and best-funded schools districts was $3,565, one of the lower figures reviewed.

Princeton University in New Jersey.
Princeton University in New Jersey.

2. New Jersey
Overall grade: B
State score: 85.5
Per-pupil spending: $15,421 (5th highest)
High school graduation rate: 87.0% (9th highest)
Eighth-graders proficient in math or reading: 48.9% (2nd highest)

New Jersey school districts benefit from the state’s wealth, with more than $15,000 spent per pupil in 2012, more than in all but a handful of states. While nearly all districts in the state spent more money per student than the national average of $11,735, some areas of the state spent much more. The gap between districts at the fifth and 95th percentiles for per pupil spending was nearly $10,000, more than twice as wide as the national gap in spending. Many students also enjoyed the benefits of early education. In 2013, 63.1% of eligible children were enrolled in preschool, the second highest rate nationwide.

The John W. Weeks Bridge over the Charles River, connecting Boston and Cambridge.
The John W. Weeks Bridge over the Charles River, connecting Boston and Cambridge.

1. Massachusetts
Overall grade: B
State score: 86.2
Per-pupil spending: $13,157 (16th highest)
High school graduation rate: 86.0% (12th highest)
Eighth-graders proficient in math or reading: 54.6% (the highest) According to Education Week, Massachusetts school systems are the best in the nation. Massachusetts eighth-graders led the nation in mathematics aptitude, with 18.2% achieving advanced-level performance on math sections of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, more than twice the national rate. A greater percentage of the state’s fourth- and eighth-graders were also proficient in both math and reading than in any other state. Strong performance among young state residents clearly led to further success, as more than 70% of 18 to 24 year olds were either enrolled in college or had already completed a post-secondary degree, the highest proportion in the nation. As in other states with strong schools, Massachusetts residents are financially well-off. Nearly 70% of children lived in families with incomes at least 200% of the poverty level, the fourth highest proportion in the country.

To see the 10 states with the worst schools, visit 247WallSt.com.