New Jersey’s public school system is America’s best

New Jersey finished first among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, with an overall score of 87.3 out of 100 points and a grade of B plus in Education Week magazine’s annual Quality Counts report.

“As the nation’s K-12 schools struggle to open amid COVID-19’s disruption, the challenges that confronted them before the pandemic—weak academic achievement, big gaps between high- and low-performing states, and room for improvement all around—remain front and center,” say Sterling C. Lloyd and Alex Harwin, the report’s authors.

Quality Counts 2020’s final grading of schools is based on the most recent federal and state data, which gives American education a grade of C on a range of academic, school finance, and long-term socioeconomic indicators.

For the second year in a row, New Jersey public schools earned the top overall ranking, but even the top performers have substantial room for improvement.

No state earned an overall grade of A. The top-scoring New Jersey fell about 13 points short of a perfect 100, but experts will use the report card to target specific areas fr improvement.

New Jersey stands at 47th for the percent of dependent children whose parents are fluent English-speakers.

New Jersey retained its top-rank largely due to the state’s continued strength in school finance.

“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,” wrote Lloyd and Harwin. “It maintained its 5.9-point advantage in school finance and cut into the Bay State’s lead in the two other graded categories. In 2019, it trailed Massachusetts by 2.4 points in Chance for Success and by 3.4 points in K-12 Achievement but now falls behind by 2.1 and 2.0 points, respectively.”

New Jersey ranks second, nationally, for school finance while Massachusetts is in 10th place.

Although New Jersey finishes in the bottom tier for finance equity, at 31st, it is a pacesetter in the spending category where it trails only perennial standout, Wyoming.

The results are anchored by the state’s commitment to education funding. It devotes 5.1 percent of its total taxable resources to education, the third-highest share in the nation.

New Jersey ranks sixth for per-pupil expenditures at $17,707 once figures are adjusted for regional cost differences and 99.9 percent of its students are in districts spending at or above the U.S. average.

“New Jersey’s public school system has consistently been a strong performer, and all of us should be proud of these results,” said Interim Education Commissioner Kevin Dehmer. “This is a collective effort, and the recognition should go to the administrators, teachers, school staff, students and parents whose commitment helps ensure our 1.4 million students receive a world-class education.”

New Jersey schools still face challenges.

Despite laws promoting school integration since 1881, a 2017 study by the UCLA Civil Rights Project found that New Jersey has the sixth-most segregated classrooms in the United States.

Ahead of this week’s scheduled opening, 180 school districts across the state have indicated they want to begin the 2020-2021 school year with all-remote learning, while 59 districts plan to fully reopen despite Covid-19.

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