For the second year in a row, New Jersey took the top spot in a ranking of the nation’s public schools, earning high marks for student achievement and how much the state spends to fund its education system.
New Jersey widened its lead ahead of Massachusetts, the nation’s second-best public school system, according to the annual “Quality Counts” ranking by Education Week, a national industry publication.
The ranking looked at 39 statistics to give states a letter grade and a score out of 100. New Jersey earned a B-plus and a score of 87.3, earning high marks for the amount of money it spends per pupil and how its students perform in the classroom and after graduation.
“The Garden State expanded its razor-thin margin over Massachusetts, its nearest rival in the overall rankings, from a few hundredths of a point in 2019 to nearly a whole point this year. It maintained its 5.9-point advantage in school finance and cut into the Bay State’s lead in the two other graded categories,” Education Week said.
The ranking used data from from 2017 to 2019, well before the coronavirus pandemic forced schools to switch to remote learning and disrupted the education of students across the country.
In addition to New Jersey and Massachusetts, the other states ranking in the top five were Connecticut, Maryland and Wyoming.
New Mexico was the lowest-ranked state with a D-plus grade and a score of 66.5. The rest of the bottom of the list includes Oklahoma, Nevada, Alabama and Louisiana.
The nation as a whole earned a C grade for its public education system, the report said.
At his coronavirus briefing Wednesday, Gov. Phil Murphy cited the ranking and said New Jerseyans can “proudly call ourselves home to the very best public education system in the entire nation.”
The report was released as many New Jersey public school districts are struggling to reopen for in-person classes while instituting social distancing measures to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
State officials said 434 school districts will open this week or within the next few weeks with a hybrid model of both in-person and remote learning, while 242 will open all-remote with students doing assignments at home.
Only 68 school districts will have all in-person classes and 22 will have some combination of schools with in-person, hybrid and remote learning. (The numbers include both public school districts, charter schools and some private schools that serve students with disabilities supervised by the state, officials said.)
“We are committed to the success of every district, every school, every teacher and – most of all – every student,” Murphy said.
The Education Week ranking said New Jersey still has room for improvement.
Though New Jersey was second in the nation in categories that measure K-12 student achievement and fifth in the nation for how its students succeed in adulthood, it was 17th in how kids are prepared to start school.
The state also ranked 47th in the nation in children with parents who speak fluent English, largely due to the high number of immigrants in New Jersey. The state also ranked in the bottom tier of states for finance equity, meaning how well schools are funded can vary widely based on where they are located.