Finding the best public school is a priority for many families. A good education is important to these families, who may even choose where they purchase or rent housing to ensure their children are in the best public school systems.
There are about 51 million public school students in the United States. While far from perfect, public schools play a vital role in their respective communities. Public schools improve their communities and the welfare of children. Public schools welcome all children, no matter their income level, disability, or previous academic performance. Many schools provide school meals, which helps children from food-insecure families get nutritious food every day. The better the public school, the more likely students will achieve higher educational attainment.
While there is no comprehensive way to measure what public schools are the best in the nation, a few surveys look at data, including high school graduation rates and college readiness, to determine which states have the best schools.
States with the Best Public Schools
WalletHub ranked each state's public schools for "Quality" and "Safety" using 33 relevant metrics. Metrics included high school graduation rate among low-income students, math and reading scores, median SAT and ACT scores, pupil-teach ratio, the share of armed students, number of school shootings between 2000 and June 2020 bullying incidence rate, and more.
Based on these metrics, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Jersey have the best public schools in the United States.
Massachusetts has the best public school system in the U.S. 48.8% of Massachusetts's eligible schools ranked in the top 25% of high school rankings, a total of 167 schools. Massachusetts has the highest math and reading test scores in the U.S. and the second-highest median ACT score of 25.1. Massachusetts also has one of the lowest bullying incidence rates in the country and is considered one of the best states for teachers. Massachusetts is also the most educated state in the country.
Connecticut ranks second in the nation for public schools, ranking second for quality and 19th for safety. Connecticut students have the highest median ACT score of 25.5 and have the third-highest reading test scores. Connecticut spends about $18,958 per student, one of the highest per-pupil spendings in the country. Connecticut is also one of the best states for teachers due to having small class sizes and some of the best-paid teachers in the U.S. with an average annual salary of $73,113.
3. New Jersey
New Jersey has the third-best public schools in the United States. New Jersey has the second-lowest dropout rate among states and the third-lowest pupil to teacher ratio. Additionally, students have the third-highest math test scores and the second-highest reading test scores in the nation. New Jersey ranks second for the overall quality of schools and 11th for safety. The state spends about $21,866 per student on average. New Jersey is considered the second-best state for teachers, with the sixth-highest average salary of $69,917 per year.
Virginia has the fourth-best public schools overall in the United States, ranking fourth for quality and third for safety. Virginia public schools were found to have the fourth-highest math test scores in the country. Virginia schools also have the fourth-lowest bullying incidence rate and have "no significant shortcomings" when assessed for safety from violence, bullying, harassment, and substance use.
Vermont has the fifth-best public schools in the nation. Vermont ranks eighth for quality, having the lowest pupil to teacher ratio in the country, allowing teachers to give each student extra attention. The average teacher ratio in the U.S. is 16-to-1, while Vermont's is 10.5-to-1. Vermont also ranks fourth for safety, tied for first with Massachusetts and Oklahoma for having the lowest percentage of threatened/injured high school students.
6. New Hampshire
New Hampshire has the sixth-best public schools in the United States, ranking seventh for quality and sixth for safety. New Hampshire schools have the fourth-highest reading test scores among states and the second-highest median ACT score of 25.1. Additionally, New Hampshire has the fifth-lowest pupil to teacher ratio of about 12-to-1.
Minnesota ranks sixth overall for the best public schools. Minnesota ranks sixth for quality. Minnesota students have the second-highest math test scores in the U.S. and are tied with Wisconsin for having the highest median SAT score. Minnesota schools' median SAT score is 1298. Despite this, there have been concerns over the state's declining performance for reading and math scores over the last few years. Luckily, graduation rates have increased for all student groups in Minnesota public schools.
Wisconsin has the eighth-best public schools in the U.S. The state ranks fifth for quality, tying with Minnesota for the highest median SAT score. Wisconsin's pupil-to-teacher ratio is 15:1, lower than the U.S. average.
Ranking ninth for public schools in Delaware, which ranks 15 for quality and second for safety. Delaware has the second-lowest bullying incident rate, only second to D.C. The average ACT score is 24.1, higher than the U.S. average, but the pupil-to-teacher ratio is 22:1.
Finishing the top ten list of best public schools by state is Maryland. Maryland's average ACT score is 22.3, and its average SAT score is 1058. The pupil-to-teacher in Maryland is 15:1, below the national average.
On the opposite end, the five states with the worst public schools are:
- New Mexico