School Rankings

Massachusetts Leads in School District Quality and Safety Ranking

A new state ranking of the best and worst school systems compared districts by performance, funding, safety, class size and instructor credentials. The project by WalletHub pegged Massachusetts at the top of its list based on overall results and New Mexico at the bottom.

The evaluation process used 25 "relevant," weighted metrics, in two broad areas:

  • Quality, as represented by presence in various "top school" lists, graduation and dropout rates, test scores, pupil-teacher ratios and share of licensed or certified teachers; and
  • Safety, examining the share of students threatened or injured in high school, avoiding school due to safety concerns, having access to illegal drugs, carrying arms or participating in violence and looking at reported numbers on bullying or disciplinary incidents, school shootings and use of school resource officers.

Massachusetts was listed at the top of states for both aspects, with a total score of 74.16 (compared to 31.53 for New Mexico at the bottom of the stack). New Jersey, which scored 67.09, was ranked second overall. Connecticut came in second for quality, and Virginia was second for safety.

Source: WalletHub

While the District of Columbia ranked first in the amount of average per-student spending, it came in 49th in overall rankings. Idaho spent the least and came in 34th overall.

Among other highlights:

  • Iowa had the lowest dropout rate, while the highest was the District of Columbia. There was a four-time difference between the top and bottom states in this category.
  • The best math test scores were found in Massachusetts, while the worst were in Louisiana.
  • The best reading test scores were also in Massachusetts, and the worst were in the District of Columbia.
  • The lowest pupil-teacher ratio was found in Vermont, and the highest was found in California.
  • Three states tied for having the lowest percentage of "threatened [and] injured high schoolers": Massachusetts, Oklahoma and Vermont. Louisiana came in with the highest share. And while the District of Columbia had the lowest reported bullying-incidence rate, Arkansas had the highest.

Not all education experts would agree that the indicators used in this comparison were the most important ones for evaluating the best and worst school systems. As Sandra Stotsky, professor of education emerita for the University of Arkansas, told WalletHub, she'd choose to use metrics that included daily attendance by students, daily attendance by teachers, availability of an accelerated curriculum in math and reading available for students from grade 5 on with an optional high school curriculum sequence, an active parent-teacher organization and committees with both teachers and parents to choose textbooks for math, science and history and to suggest literary texts for reading K-12.

Theodore Zervas, an associate professor at North Park University, added that in-person research would be important too. "When someone is looking for schools for their child," he advised, "I tell them the best thing they could do is look at the school report card, but also visit the school and talk to the teachers and administrators about the school and school community."

The complete set of state assessments is openly available on the WalletHub website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.