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Last updated: October 19, 2023 • Education Advice

Worst states for education in America

Education is one of the most important things in our lives. Our future success can depend on it, but quality education is also crucial in building a better and more sustainable future for society. Education is at the base of everything we do and determines the prospective outcome of our endeavors. That’s why it can be crucial to know in advance which are the worst states for education before seriously considering a relocation. On a practical level, education is a tool like technology – whether it is making us smarter or dumber depends on the way we choose to use it. Education is also one of the first things parents or future parents look into when considering relocation. If that’s important to you, the worst ranked states for education will probably not be on your list of options. 

For many, education is just another necessary bad. The distrust often comes from the deficiencies of the education system. We could also argue extensively about conventional education vs skills, and it would be hard to decide which one is better. But one thing’s for sure: good education can provide a base to build amazing skills you can benefit from your whole life. 

Unfortunately, not all states have good education systems, and it’s showing in the results over time.  Here’s what you need to know about the worst states for education in 2023.

Benefits of a good education

happy diverse multi ethnic kids

If schooling is important to you, it can be a game changer to know which are the best states for education– and which are the worst states for education, too. Good education is one of the most important investments a person can make in their own or their children’s future. It provides a foundation for success and opens up a world of opportunities for personal and professional growth that benefits the individual and society as a whole. A good school can also be helpful in balancing parenting and career, making life easier for the child and the parent. It might be more challenging to get access to good resources in the worst states for education in America, but whether there is good education available or not depends on the area too. It’s also important to note, that moving to a new neighborhood, or especially a new city can be difficult for children and helping kids adjust after a move can be critical in their development. 

Access to good education can have a ripple effect and contribute to one’s success in the future. As a more overlooked but just as significant benefits of education are its societal implications.  

Education on a societal level

class mate class room sharing others

The societal importance of education cannot be overstated. Education is a cornerstone in the building of our society. The world leaders who created the 17 Global Goals for a sustainable future in 2015 stated that education played a critical role in sustainable development. All the objectives aimed to protect the planet, fight inequality and end extreme poverty have education at their base. According to them, access to a good education improves the quality of life by decreasing the chances of unemployment and opening up possibilities to have access to resources and healthcare. 

Benefits of education on an individual level

Good education can profoundly affect an individual’s life, both in the short and the long term. Some of the most indisputable benefits are:

Improved career prospects

Education opens doors to better job opportunities, higher salaries, and increased financial stability. Individuals with higher education levels are often more competitive in the job market and can access a broader range of career options

Better earning

People with higher education earn more over their lifetime than those with lower levels of education. The increased earning potential can translate into better financial stability and the possibility of pursuing a higher quality of life. 

Critical thinking

A good education provides individuals with more than mere information that has to be learned by the heart. A good education teaches people how to think. Critical thinking is an essential building block in the development of abilities like problem-solving, which can be used in many areas of life.

Communication skills

Education helps to develop stronger communication skills, which are essential for success in the professional and personal lives alike. 

A broadened worldview and richer experience

Education teaches individuals to shift perspectives and foster empathy by exposing them to cultures and ideas different from their own. As an example, some choose to send their children to a religious school even though it’s not their religion. 

Better health 

Poverty is one of the biggest problems in the world. Health risks are bigger with poverty, as those  in need often don’t get access to crucial basic resources like food or water. And even if basic needs are met, the costs of healthcare are too high for many people. This can lead to chronic diseases and shorter life expectancy

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Education ranking by state

glasses on map ohio usa

Statistics shows that some states are better at education than others. This doesn’t mean that the worst ranked states for education don’t have cities where education is good. Places ranked as the worst states for education rather give a more general overview of the state’s educational institutions. However, the criteria by which the statistics are provided can vary. It’s important always to do individual research based on multiple sources before committing to a move. Also, statistics can be very different for public schools, private schools, or charter schools, so keep that information in mind when going through the data.  

The best ranked states for education

portrait school glasses smiling

Here’s a list based on Wallethub’s most recent statistics of the best ranking states for education in 2023. They compared all the states using 20 specific metrics and across two criteria: Educational Attainment and Quality of Education. Each state has been given a score between 1 and 100, with 100 being the highest. According to Wallethub’s education ranking by state, these are the top 10 best states for education, and their scores out of 100:

  1. Massachusetts, 83.03
  2. Maryland, 76.73
  3. Connecticut, 72.06
  4. Vermont, 71.40
  5. Colorado, 69.30
  6. New Jersey, 68.85
  7. Virginia, 67.33
  8. New Hampshire, 67.20
  9. Minnesota, 63.98
  10. Utah, 63.31

The scholarship database site Scholaroo has used 43 different metrics, and the results in the rankings are similar but slightly different. They used the criteria of Student Success, School Quality, and Student Safety to determine the best and worst states for education in 2023. According to Scholoaroo’s study, based on those different criteria, the top 10 from the list of best states for education are:

  1. New Jersey
  2. New Hampshire
  3. Vermont
  4. Connecticut
  5. Massachusetts
  6. New York
  7. Maine
  8. Delaware
  9. Pennsylvania
  10. Virginia

The worst ranked states for education

 And now, let’s see the results of the same two studies to see which are the worst states for education in America. According to Wallethub’s study based on the criteria of Educational Attainment and Quality of Education, these states ranked with the poorest results:

  1. West Virginia, 22.40
  2. Mississippi, 25.64
  3. Lousiana, 27.36
  4. Arkansas, 30.87
  5. Alabama, 34.46
  6. Oklahoma, 35.32
  7. Nevada, 35.70
  8. Kentucky, 35.70
  9. New Mexico, 36.99
  10. Texas, 40.14

Taking a different approach and looking at the criteria of Student Success, School Quality, and Student Safety, Scholaroo’s list of the 10 worst states for education goes like this:

  1. Arizona
  2. Nevada 
  3. Louisiana
  4. Oklahoma
  5. New Mexico
  6. California
  7. North Carolina
  8. Alabama
  9. South Carolina
  10. Florida

The worst states for special education

teacher girl down syndrome

Access to quality special education is a bit of a stain on the efficiency of America’s education system. Most states are not meeting requirements, and there’s only so much accessible  information on the subject. Trying to figure out which are the worst states for special education can be a bit of a challenge, and finding the best special needs schools is not simple either. Many struggle with finding a place to live for a family with special needs where the education system is capable of providing the necessary resources for the families. This is partly because of the lack of clear information on the availability of special education and the scarcity of studies on the subject. Many people choose to homeschool their special needs child, because of the lack of proper resources, efficiency, and greater security of the child. While this is a legitimate option for some, it’s impossible for others because of various reasons. When homeschooling is not an option, parents are depending on the quality of the school system. 

The US Department of Education determined in its 2021 report on special education efficiency that only 21 states qualify as capable of meeting requirements for students with disabilities ages 3-21. The rest of the states were labeled with the category “needs assistance”. 

According to a study released by the Department of Education in 2015, these were the worst states for special education in the south and southeast: Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Delaware, and Florida were labeled as “needs assistance.” 

The list labels Washington, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, New York, and Maine also among the states that needed assistance. 

In the west and midwest, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, Alaska, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Idaho were the ones, who could have had better scores. 

Meanwhile, according to unofficial sources, California, New York, Colorado, and Minnesota managed by 2020 to implement solutions and succeeded in climbing to the top of the list of places some consider the best for children with autism, for example. 

The worst states in serving children with ASD

happy autism boy during therapy

It’s eye-opening to note that 1 in every 54 children in the US have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. If we do the math, that’s about 135,000 underage individuals in America. It’s easy to see why the need for proper special education is so great. A child with autism needs the state’s support, like the resources available in schools and sensory gyms or the monetary support parents can be provided with. This changes from state to state, and there are changes in the ranking over time too. While some private schools stand out with their special needs classes, others, especially public schools are lacking in many states. It’s always crucial to do individual up-to-date research before deciding where to move. That being said, the worst states for special education for children with autism are:

  1. West Virginia
  2. New Mexico
  3. Tennessee
  4. Nevada
  5. Kentucky
  6. Oklahoma
  7. South Carolina
  8. Nebraska 
  9. Mississippi
  10. Maine

In conclusion

While some states in the USA are struggling with providing quality education and appear in rankings as the worst states for education, some options are still available for those seeking better education opportunities. This includes looking into alternative education systems, advocating for policy changes, and taking advantage of the many online resources available. Don’t forget that education is a life-long pursuit, and there are always opportunities to learn and grow, regardless of living in one of the worst states for education. By taking a proactive approach and improving your own education, you can advocate for change in your community. Thinking collectively about why our education system fails to equip students for adulthood can lead to more people mobilizing and making a change over time. Education provides the tools you need to help make a difference and create a brighter future for yourself, your community, and the larger society.

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