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The Worst, Most Dangerous School Systems In The U.S. Are in the South

In Massachusetts, students perform well on tests and have limited access to weapons and drugs. School shootings are uncommon; bullying rates are low. Oregon and Louisiana cannot boast the same.

The majority of U.S. families rely on public schools to educate their children and keep them happy and safe. Unfortunately, some states are better at this than others. In Massachusetts, according to a new analysis from Wallet Hub, students perform well on tests and have limited access to weapons and drugs. School shootings are uncommon; bullying rates are low. Oregon, Louisiana, and Arkansas cannot boast the same.

And, while it’s difficult to pin down what makes an excellent public school system, several of these factors have been shown to strongly influence student success. “These include family factors, such as family support, positive family communication, and parent involvement in school,” Laura Hsu of Merrimack College told Wallet Hub. “It also includes school factors, such as a caring school climate and school boundaries…Each developmental asset has a cumulative impact on a child’s success and well-being.”

Here’s a map of the top-performing public school systems in the United States. Lighter colors indicate a higher overall score. The numbers over each state indicate each public school system’s safety ranking.

The overall score is a composite of Quality and Safety, measured across 25 metrics. To determine quality, Wallet Hub tallied each state’s national public school rankings, high school graduation rates, math and reading test scores, SAT and ACT scores, and pupil-teacher ratio. Safety was mostly a matter of student access to drugs and firearms, bullying rates, school shootings, and youth incarceration rates. The data comes from the U.S Census Bureau, Department of Education, and other public data source.

It is noteworthy that there exists no agreed-upon way to determine the “best” or “worst” school systems. Some other questions researchers ask when evaluating public schools include, “is teacher turnover low in all schools or high in some and low in others?” Paul T. Hill of the Hoover Institution told Wallet Hub. “In what percent of the schools is the average kid unlikely to graduate or be eligible for college? What proportion of kids leave elementary school reading at grade level and mastering fractions, percentages, etc? What is the probability that a student leaving 8th grade will graduate high school four years later?”

Additionally, both school quality and safety are frustrating metrics from a prevention perspective. Researchers remain unsure why some states have systems more prone to bullying, or why students in some states seem to achieve less than others. Studies have ruled out school spending as a cause. “Economist Eric Hanushek for years has told us that spending more money on education does not result in higher school achievement or quality,” Sandra Stotsky, formerly of the University of Arkansas, told Wallet Hub.

But this map is a good start (and ample reason to pick up your family and move to Massachusetts).