The 10 Best States for Education in 2024

Education plays a pivotal role in shaping our society and the future. The quality of education children receive impacts their opportunities, earnings, health, and overall wellbeing later in life. With education primarily handled at the state and local level in the U.S., there are significant differences between states when it comes to factors that influence the quality of education.

Some key factors that determine the best states for education include academic performance, classroom spending, student-teacher ratios, school safety, availability of extracurricular activities, higher education options, special education programs, and parental involvement. While test scores and metrics offer one view of education, it’s also important to consider whether students have access to resources, technologies, sports, arts, small class sizes, and individual attention. The best education empowers students to reach their full potential.

This article will explore which states offer the best educational opportunities and outcomes for students of all ages and backgrounds. Quality education nurtures engaged, creative, and innovative thinkers who can thrive in the 21st century economy. With the future competitiveness and prosperity of states and the nation at stake, understanding what makes an educational system successful is crucial.

Academic Performance

Academic performance is a key factor when evaluating the quality of education in different states. Two important metrics to consider are standardized test scores and high school graduation rates.

Test Scores

Standardized tests like the SAT and ACT are used by colleges and universities across the country to assess students’ academic abilities and college readiness. States with higher average test scores typically have stronger K-12 education systems that better prepare students for higher education. According to the ACT, Massachusetts students had the highest average composite score of 25.5 in 2022, followed by New Jersey, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Florida. These states consistently rank among the top for SAT scores as well.

Graduation Rates

The high school graduation rate reflects the percentage of students who earn a high school diploma within four years. This is another important indicator of academic achievement. Iowa, New Jersey, and Massachusetts had the highest 4-year graduation rates in 2020-2021 at over 90%, while states like New Mexico and Nevada were closer to 70%. Factors like school funding, quality of teachers, and availability of support resources likely contribute to differences in graduation rates between states.

Classroom Spending

Classroom spending is an important consideration when evaluating the quality of education in a state. Two key factors related to classroom spending are per pupil spending and teacher salaries.

Per pupil spending refers to the amount of money allocated per student in a state’s public school system. States that have higher per pupil spending are generally able to provide more resources and support to their students. This extra funding can go towards hiring additional teachers to reduce class sizes, purchasing new technology and instructional materials, and offering enrichment programs. States like New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts that consistently top education rankings tend to have some of the highest per pupil spending in the U.S.

Teacher salaries also impact the quality of classroom instruction. When teachers are paid competitive wages, states can attract and retain talented educators. Higher salaries allow districts to recruit experienced teachers and those with advanced degrees in their subject matter. According to the National Education Association, the states with the highest average teacher salaries include New York, California, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Jersey. Paying teachers well incents quality instruction and is key for creating an effective learning environment.

Student-Teacher Ratio

Smaller class sizes allow teachers to give more individual attention to each student. States with lower student-teacher ratios tend to have better academic outcomes. The ideal class size is a subject of debate, but research suggests classes under 20 students per teacher have the most benefit. Some top states for education have average class sizes below 15 students.

With fewer students, teachers can provide more personalized instruction, identify learning issues sooner, and encourage participation and engagement. Students receive more feedback and academic support in a small class setting. This is especially important in lower grades as children are developing foundational skills.

Smaller classes also allow for different teaching methods beyond lecturing. Teachers can implement more group work, activities, and experiments when they have fewer students to manage. This variety of learning experiences is enriching for students.

Of course, lowering class sizes requires hiring more teachers and building more classrooms, so there are budget implications. But the long-term impact on student achievement makes it a worthwhile investment for states focused on education.

School Safety

School safety has become a major concern for parents and educators in recent years. While overall school violence has declined since the 1990s, fears over school shootings and other safety threats persist. When evaluating the safety of schools, two key factors to consider are school violence rates and the strength of safety protocols in place.

School violence encompasses a range of concerning behaviors. This includes bullying, fights, weapons on campus, sexual assault, gang activity, and mass attacks. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2019 about 7% of students reported being threatened or injured with a weapon on school property. While any violence is unacceptable, rates have declined significantly since the 1990s. States with lower than average school violence rates tend to have better reputations for school safety.

School safety protocols refer to the policies, procedures, and prevention programs schools implement. Common measures include visitor screening, locked doors, security guards, metal detectors, anonymous tip lines, social-emotional learning, and crisis response plans. States recognized for school safety emphasize training staff and students on safety best practices. They also prioritize violence prevention through anti-bullying campaigns, counseling, and community involvement. Strong protocols help mitigate risks and ensure schools are prepared to handle any incidents.

When researching the best states for education, analyzing key safety metrics helps identify places where students can feel secure while learning. Low violence rates and rigorous safety standards provide reassurance to families.


Extracurricular activities are an important component of a well-rounded education. They provide opportunities for students to explore passions and develop skills beyond the academic curriculum. Some of the top states for education excel in offering diverse extracurricular programming.

States with strong arts education programs give students access to band, orchestra, choir, theater, visual arts, and more. Participating in the arts allows students to unleash creativity, build confidence, and collaborate with peers. Leading arts education states like New York, California, and Massachusetts have high per-student spending on the arts and numerous specialized arts high schools.

For students interested in athletics, top states provide ample opportunities to play school-sponsored sports. States like Texas, Florida, and Ohio boast strong cultures around high school football, basketball, baseball, and more. Participating in team sports teaches valuable life lessons like discipline, teamwork, and perseverance.

Beyond arts and athletics, academic clubs allow students to expand intellectual horizons. Science clubs, math clubs, and academic honor societies are available at many schools in states like Illinois, Virginia, and Minnesota. Volunteering clubs, student government, and cultural clubs also allow students to pursue passions and make an impact.

By offering diverse, well-funded extracurricular programming, the best states for education enable students to explore interests, build skills, make friends, and become well-rounded individuals. The availability of arts, sports, and clubs enriches the educational experience.

Higher Education

The quality of higher education in a state is an important factor for families to consider when evaluating the best states for education. Some key elements that contribute to strong higher education systems include:

  • Quality of Public Universities – Many families hope their children can attend top-ranked, affordable public universities in their home states. States with highly-rated public university systems like the University of California, University of Michigan, and University of Virginia offer residents access to world-class education and research opportunities. Strong public universities also attract talented faculty and provide pipelines for innovation and economic growth.

  • College Readiness Programs – States that invest in quality college preparation programs starting in middle and high school help ensure students smoothly transition to higher education. This includes counseling about college options, assistance with applications and financial aid, advanced coursework like AP classes, and partnerships between K-12 districts and universities. States with robust college readiness initiatives see higher college enrollment and completion rates among their high school graduates.

By evaluating factors like university quality and college readiness programs, families can compare the higher education landscape across states. Given the costs of college today, the academic options and support available in a state weigh heavily in determining which are the best for education overall. Strong higher ed systems provide long-term value by preparing students for career success after graduation.

Special Education

Special education programs and inclusion rates vary greatly by state. Some states have robust special needs programs and a high percentage of special needs students included in mainstream classrooms. Other states lag behind in serving students with disabilities.

When evaluating states’ special education offerings, it’s important to look at both the quality of special needs programs and the rate at which special needs students are included in general education classrooms. Strong special education states provide substantial resources for students with disabilities while also pushing for inclusion.

Leading states for special education excel in offering individualized education programs (IEPs) tailored to each student’s needs. They have specialized instruction, therapies, accommodations, and transitional programs. Top programs help students with disabilities reach their full potential academically and developmentally.

Inclusion of special needs students alongside general education students is another marker of a strong special education system. Inclusion provides social and academic benefits for special needs students. States with high inclusion rates show a commitment to integrating special education students.

Funding, staffing levels, customized curriculums, and inclusion rates all factor into a state’s special education offerings. Evaluating these factors helps determine which states provide the most supportive environments for students with disabilities. The best programs enable every child to succeed regardless of learning differences.

Parental Involvement

Parental involvement is a key factor in a child’s education and contributes to better academic performance. States that actively encourage and facilitate parent participation see higher levels of engagement.

Parent Teacher Association (PTA) participation is one metric that correlates with parental involvement. In states with strong PTAs, parents take a more active role in their child’s schooling through volunteering, attending school events, communicating with teachers, and fundraising. Surveys show that in states with high PTA membership, parents feel more empowered and informed about their child’s education. They are also more satisfied with teacher communication and their school’s responsiveness.

Many states and school districts conduct annual parent surveys to gauge satisfaction and identify areas for improvement. These surveys measure factors like school climate, safety, academics, extracurricular activities, and parent engagement. The feedback is used to shape policies, programs, and communication strategies. States that value parent input as evidenced by high survey response rates tend to see greater involvement and better student outcomes.

By facilitating communication, states can help parents feel connected to their child’s schooling. This cultivates a shared sense of responsibility between parents, students, teachers and administrators. Ultimately, an engaged parent community creates a more supportive learning environment.


In summary, some of the key factors that make a state one of the best for education include academic performance, classroom spending, student-teacher ratios, school safety, extracurricular opportunities, higher education options, special education programs, and parental involvement. Based on an evaluation of these factors, the top states for education are:

  1. Massachusetts – Has consistently high test scores, well-funded schools, low student-teacher ratios, strong higher education institutions, and high parental involvement.

  2. New Jersey – Excellent academic performance, high per-pupil spending, extensive extracurricular activities, and top-ranked colleges and universities.

  3. Connecticut – High test scores, lots of AP course offerings, low student-teacher ratios, high parent engagement, and excellent higher education institutions.

  4. Virginia – Strong academic achievement, high SAT/ACT scores, robust extracurriculars, and top-ranked public universities.

  5. New Hampshire – Leads in NAEP test scores, low student-teacher ratios, high graduation rates, and highly educated population overall.

By focusing on critical factors like academics, funding, classroom sizes, safety, activities, higher education, special needs programs, and parent participation, states can provide exceptional education environments and outcomes for students. The states at the top excel across many of these areas.

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