The Best School Systems in the Country
Where are the country’s best schools? A recent study collected data to answer this very question. Their methodology includes data collection on two main data points: quality (determined largely by school rankings and dropout rates) and safety. Massachusetts ranked first on the list, followed by New Jersey. Ranking at 51 was New Mexico, right under Louisiana and the District of Columbia. Here are the top five states with the best public school systems, and the top factors that contributed to their ranking.
Massachusetts ranked first in math and reading test scores. It also ranked first in median ACT scores (along with Connecticut) and has the lowest percentage of threatened/injured high school students (tied with Oklahoma and Vermont). For lowest bullying-incidence rate, Massachusetts came in fifth.
New Jersey ranked second in the lowest dropout rates and highest reading test scores. It ranked third in highest math test scores.
Connecticut tied for first with Massachusetts in highest median test scores. It came in fourth for highest reading test scores, and fifth for lowest pupil-teacher ration.
New Hampshire ranked third for highest reading test scores and tied for third in highest median ACT scores.
Vermont placed fifth in highest reading test scores and has the lowest pupil-teacher ration. It tied for first in the lowest percentage of threatened/injured high school students.
Lori Czop Assaf, Ph.D., offers her insight into what makes schools systems succeed. Her list of determining factors include teacher knowledge and expertise, instructional time, and the teacher-student ratio per classroom.
Merrimack College Assistant Professor Laura Hsu also discussed which factors she sees as increasingly important when considering the quality of a school system. “I will say that from literature I have read, more than any factor within the school, teacher quality seems to be the strongest predictor of student achievement.
Thus, recruiting and retaining strong teachers would ideally be the priority for every school,” she says. Districts with lower compensation packages for teachers will find it difficult to recruit the quality teachers they need to improve their school system, especially as we see education students changing majors because of grim salary outlooks.
Hsu’s remarks could support the idea that school districts with larger budgets in proportion to their student population could achieve more. Economists at the University of California–Berkeley and Northwestern University found that after states were required to increase their funding of school districts, students’ test scores improved.
Education experts across the board agree that higher test scores do not necessarily indicate the higher total quality of a school. Much of what appears on standardized tests like the SAT and ACT is not explicitly taught inside the classroom. Other strongly influential factors of school quality include school leadership, discipline statistics, teacher turnover, and student happiness.
As these are qualitative variables, instead of quantitative, they are more difficult to measure and therefore incorporated less into school rankings. We should take these results at face value, and understand that not all factors that contribute to the success and quality of public school systems can be reduced to a statistic.