The quality of education in the United States is a widely debated topic, as education between states can vary greatly. Some states are home to the world’s most prestigious universities and have well-funded schools, and high-quality teachers, while other states struggle to reach testing benchmarks, have inadequate funding, and consistently see overcrowded classrooms, creating a far less effective learning environment for students.
We analyzed five factors that heavily impact education and indexed each state in the country to measure which states have the highest quality of education and which ones have the lowest.
How to Interpret the Quality of Education Index
The highest possible score is 100, with 100 being a high-quality education and zero being a low-quality education. The index is based on five factors for every state:
- Average SAT score
- Average ACT score
- Public education spending
- Teacher-student ratio
- High school graduation rate
The higher a state’s Quality of Education Score, the better the education is, especially when compared to the scores of other states.
Notable Findings from the Index
New Hampshire has the overall highest index, scoring 93.56 out of 100 possible points
- The state ranked in the top five spots for four out of the five categories we analyzed
Arizona’s education is the lowest quality in the U.S. with an index score of 72.95—more than 20 points lower than New Hampshire
The following states ranked the highest in each category:
- Teacher-Student Ratio: Maine & New Hampshire (tie)
- Graduation Rate: Iowa and Alabama (tie)
- Public Education Spending: New York
- ACT Scores: District of Columbia
- SAT Scores: Wisconsin
The states that ranked the lowest in each category are as follows:
- Teacher-Student Ratio: California
- Graduation Rate: District of Columbia
- Public Education Spending: Utah
- ACT Scores: Nevada
- SAT Scores: West Virginia
Factors Affecting Education Quality
While there are many factors that determine the quality of education in any given state, we analyzed five of the most prominent and that have a large impact on students and their learning.
The Scholastic Assessment Test, or SAT, is one of the most common standardized college admission tests. It primarily measures students’ knowledge of common subjects that include mathematics, reading, and writing. A student’s score on the SAT can determine whether or not they are accepted into certain colleges or universities, qualify for scholarships, or even if they can get other financial aid.
Similar to the SAT, the American College Testing, or ACT, is a standardized test used for college admissions. It covers the areas of English language, mathematics, science, and reading. This test is also used by colleges and universities to determine if a student will be accepted into their program and receive scholarships and financial aid.
Public Education Spending
The amount of money put into public education for each student can heavily affect their learning. Each state has different funding and philosophies for how much to spend per student and what to spend that money on to give students the best education possible. Public education funding often goes toward teacher salaries, classroom supplies, learning materials and technology, transportation, extracurricular activities, specialized learning programs (such as special education services), and maintaining educational buildings and facilities.
Having a good teacher-student ratio can impact the amount of time teachers can dedicate to individual students. If there is a high number of students for every one teacher, it makes classroom management more difficult and doesn’t allow for very much individualized teaching between the teacher and each student. On the other hand, if there is a lower number of students per teacher, it gives students more individual time to get help from teachers, allowing for more student engagement and better overall learning.
High school graduation rates often are a marker of how well the public education system is doing in general. Higher graduation rates typically signify that students are highly engaged in learning, are motivated by teachers and administrators to obtain an education, have access to the proper educational support and resources, and are learning and retaining knowledge to help them pass standardized tests.
We looked at five main factors that heavily affect the quality of education throughout the United States. We converted each factor into an index between one and 100, where the data from the state with the highest number for each data set scored 100 and all other states scored relative to the highest-scoring state. We then found the combined average of all five factors in each state to give a final index ranking out of 100.
The factors we researched are:
- Average SAT scores in 2022 by state, according to CollegeBoard.org
- Average ACT scores in 2022 by state, according to ACT.org
- Public education spending by state, according to EducationData.org
- Teacher-student ratio by state, according to PublicSchoolReview.com
- Graduation rates by state, according to National Center for Education Statistics