The United States has lost ground among developed nations in promoting quality education for its students — a troubling trend that the Common Core State Standards is designed to counter.
Although education policy is becoming increasingly uniform across the county, state school systems are still far from equal.
The stakes for students are high, and the nation has plenty of work to do to develop an education system that best serves its children. Based on this year’s edition of Quality Counts, released by Education Week, the United States received a score of C for its school systems. Among states, Massachusetts had the best school systems in the country, with a grade of B, while Mississippi had the worst with a grade of D. That's an improvement over last year, when the nation scored C- and Mississippi earned the sole F.
Yahoo Homes is publishing the five worst states here. To see the rest of 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.”
There's a strong correlation between low income and low achievement. All of the states with the worst school systems had a higher proportion of children from poorer families (those earning less than 200 percent of the national poverty level). Nationally, 55.4% come from families that earn more than that threshold, but the percentage was smaller in the lower-achieving states.
And relatively few children in the states with the worst school systems had at least one parent with a post-secondary degree. In Nevada, less than 34% of children had a relatively well-educated parent, versus a national rate of 47.2% — the lowest rate nationwide.
Money seems to matter somewhat at the public level, too: In all but two of the 10 states with the worst school systems, school districts spent less than $10,000 per pupil, compared with a nationwide district expenditure of $11,735 in 2012 (the latest year for which figures were available). The best statewide school systems tended to spend far more.
All of these factors contribute to a child’s chances of graduating from high school, pursuing further education, getting a job, and so forth. In eight of the 10 states with the worst rated school systems, students were less likely to graduate from high school than their peers nationwide. In all but two of the top states, on the other hand, students had higher graduation rates than the national figure of 81% in 2012.
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 worst schools.
Overall grade: D+
State score: 67.6
Per-pupil spending: $8,101 (2nd lowest)
High school graduation rate: 77.0% (12th lowest)
Eighth-graders proficient in math or reading: 30.6% (14th lowest)
School districts in Arizona spent $8,101 per pupil in 2012, the second lowest average expenditure nationwide. As in most of the worst-rated states, Arizona allocates relatively little tax revenue to education. The state spent just 2.5% of state GDP on education in 2012, nearly the lowest proportion of any state. On average, across the U.S. education expenditure accounted for 3.4% of state GDP. As in other states with high proportions of immigrants, many children from Arizona’s non-English-speaking families may find instruction more difficult than their peers. The parents of about a quarter of children did not speak fluent English, one of the lowest rates in the country. While more than 34% of eighth-graders nationwide were proficient on reading exams, less than 28% in Arizona were, one of the lowest rates.
Overall grade: D+
State score: 67.6
Per-pupil spending: $8,624 (7th lowest)
High school graduation rate: 79.0% (21st lowest)
Eighth-graders proficient in math or reading: 25.0% (6th lowest)
More than 34% of eighth-graders nationwide demonstrated proficiency on the NAEP in 2013. In Oklahoma, just 25% of eighth-graders did so, one of the lowest rates reviewed. While high education expenditures do not guarantee better performance on national exams, relatively small school budgets in Oklahoma likely played a role in the students’ poor performance. School districts spent $8,624 per pupil in 2012, among the lowest average expenditures. Similarly, children from wealthier backgrounds can often count on more advantages than their less wealthy peers, and Oklahoma residents were relatively poor in 2013. Less than 45% of adults earned incomes at or above the national median, one of the lower proportions in the country.
3. New Mexico
Overall grade: D
State score: 65.5
Per-pupil spending: $9,736 (16th lowest)
High school graduation rate: 74.0% (6th lowest)
Eighth-graders proficient in math or reading: 22.7% (4th lowest)
The four-year high school graduation rate in New Mexico was less than 74% in 2012, below the national graduation rate of 81%. New Mexico’s students also performed poorly on standardized assessment tests, with just 21.5% of fourth-graders deemed proficient in either math or reading. Nationally, 34% of fourth-graders were proficient in either subject. Poor test scores may be a reflection of insufficient funding. New Mexico’s school districts spent an average of $9,736 per student in 2012, roughly $2,000 less than average spending level across the nation.
Overall grade: D
State score: 65.0
Per-pupil spending: $8,141 (5th lowest)
High school graduation rate: 60.0% (the lowest)
Eighth-graders proficient in math or reading: 28.3% (10th lowest)
Less than 34% of children in Nevada had at least one parent with a post-secondary degree, the lowest rate nationwide. Since parents play perhaps the most important role in a child’s chance for success, poor educational attainment rates among adults in Nevada were likely a factor in children’s relatively poor achievements in school. Similarly, early education can set the stage for a child’s entire academic career. Young children in Nevada were among the least likely nationwide to attend preschool or kindergarten. With the lowest high school graduation rate in the country, at 60% in 2012, young adults in Nevada were also far less likely to pursue further education than their peers in most states. While 55.1% of American young adults were enrolled in or had completed a post-secondary degree program, just 40.5% in Nevada were — nearly the lowest rate.
Overall grade: D
State score: 64.2
Per-pupil spending: $9,587 (15th lowest)
High school graduation rate: 68.0% (2nd lowest)
Eighth-graders proficient in math or reading: 21.3% (3rd lowest)
Mississippi had the worst schools in the country in 2013, receiving a D on Education Week’s report. The state’s K-12 achievement was particularly poor — Mississippi was only state to earn a failing grade in the category. Less than 22% of fourth and eighth-grade students were deemed proficient in either math or reading, far below the 34% of students considered proficient nationwide in each age group. Poor test scores may be a product of the state’s poverty. Roughly 58% of families earned incomes that were less than 200% of the poverty level in 2013, higher than the nearly 45% of families who did nationwide. Additionally, only 38.4% of children had at least one parent who had a post-secondary degree in 2013, one of the lower rates nationwide. Finances, too, were a major problem for school districts in Mississippi. On average, districts spent less than $10,000 per student in 2012. Although it wasn’t the lowest per pupil spending, it was just half as much as Vermont, the nation’s highest per-pupil spender.