These Five States Have the Best-Performing Schools

These Five States Have the Best-Performing Schools

Education is the path to future success, and every parent wants to set their children up for the best possible future. That’s one reason that real estate agents report that potential homebuyers factor a house’s school district heavily into their plans to buy a home. They want to live in districts with schools that perform well above average. But there is also a growing trend of families seeking out states with better performing schools and track records of student success to give their kids an edge in the competitive race to get into the best colleges.

According to the Urban Institute, parents are willing to spend more on a house to guarantee their child’s placement in a better school district: “Families took on greater increases in their monthly housing costs compared with households without children for the same improvement in school quality, showing parent’s willingness to stretch financially to gain access to better schools for their children.” As parents well know, school vary markedly in quality across the United States.

While we often think of the United States as, well, united, the country’s education system is a patchwork of fifty sets of state regulations and more than 13,000 local school districts, along with countless private schools, charter schools, and other semi-independent education institutions. With so many authorities overseeing education, it’s no wonder that students’ educational experience can be so different depending on which state and district they attend school in.

In this article, we’ll examine the five states with the top-ranked K-12 schools according to U.S. News & World Report and look at what they’re doing right in education. The rankings were compiled based on student performance on standardized tests, graduation rates, and how well schools prepare students for college.

  1. New Jersey. New Jersey’s K-12 education system is universally praised as one of the best in the country by any measure. New Jersey has high academic standards that are closely tied to career preparation with a curriculum that is designed to prepare students for college and beyond. In addition, New Jersey invests heavily in attracting and recruiting high-quality teachers who must meet exceptionally rigorous certification requirements. This ensures educators are capable and effective. The state’s diverse curriculum options, ranging from traditional academics to technical and arts education, gives students a variety of options and the ability to match students to the educational path that best meets their needs. New Jersey also invests heavily in education, allowing schools to function with sufficient budgets to integrate technology and provide effective learning environments. The state has undertaken serious efforts to implement equity programs to ensure every student has access to high-quality education. 
  2. Massachusetts. Best known for its world-famous colleges and universities, such as Harvard, Boston College, and MIT, Massachusetts is also a powerhouse in K-12 education. Massachusetts has the highest national scores on standardized tests due to its strong curriculum framework that emphasizes critical thinking and problem-solving skills to prepare students for the real world. Like New Jersey, Massachusetts also invests heavily in education and works to attract and retain highly qualified teachers who have passed the state’s rigorous credentialing process. Massachusetts has been on the forefront of education reform for more than thirty years, implementing new evidence-based strategies at regular intervals to achieve results. Part of what sets the state apart from others is its emphasis on early education. With its universal pre-K initiative and investment in early childhood education, Massachusetts sets its students up for success from their earliest school days.
  3. Connecticut. Like Massachusetts, Connecticut is most famous for a university, Yale, but it should be equally well known for its high-quality public K-12 education system. Like other states on this list, Connecticut has rigorous academic standards that are focused on critical thinking, problem-solving, and college readiness. Similarly, Connecticut also emphasizes quality teachers and holds them to high standards, and the state heavily funds education in a way that supports student achievement. Connecticut also emphasizes equity in education and works to ensure that every student has the same access to quality education regardless of their demographic origin or socioeconomic background. What sets Connecticut apart from other states is its strong support for special education and its efforts to involve the community as collaborators in the education process. By ensuring every student receives a high-quality education, Connecticut delivers results, and bringing schools, families, community organizations, and businesses together to support student achievement, Connecticut creates statewide stakeholder investment in student success. 
  4. Vermont. Vermont is one of the least-populated states, and its small size has given it a unique opportunity to develop an educational system that focuses on the individual student. First and foremost, Vermont’s small size translates into small class sizes and a low student to teacher ratio. This contributes to a more individualized learning experience for students and stronger student-teacher relationships. Similarly, the small size of the state fosters a strong local identity, which in turn has led to strong local control of schools. Vermont devolves a lot of the decision making onto local districts, and this allows schools to be more responsive to each community’s needs. Vermont’s education system focuses on experiential, hands-on learning including outdoor education, apprenticeships, and service-learning, drawing deep connections between school and the real world. Vermont’s commitment to innovation and sustainability also helps to create a flexible and modern education that prepares students for the future.
  5. Illinois. Ranking fifth on our list is the only state in the top five not found in the northeast, as you can see in these US map images by Depositphotos. Illinois, located in the Midwest, combines many of the elements found in the other members of the top five. Illinois offers high academic standards and a rigorous qualification and certification process for teachers to ensure academic rigor. It invests heavily in education, including in innovative programs designed to promote personalized learning. Illinois focuses on career readiness and integrates community involvement into the education process. The state is also making strides on equity to help close achievement gaps and give every student the same opportunities to excel.