No state received an A in Education Week's annual survey. Click the image for the full-size chart.
For the fifth straight year, Maryland schools were rated best in the nation in closely watched annual rankings released Thursday, which overall gave America's schools a C+.
The biggest improvements across the country last year were in preparing pupils for college, according to an analysis by Education Week, which compiles the survey each year with the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, the nonprofit research center that publishes the magazine.
The study, called "Quality Counts," which Education Week has conducted annually since 1996, assesses a wide range of data, including funding; long-range education policy; standards, assessments and accountability for teachers; and safety and security. It also incorporates the results of a survey of 1,300 educators from across the country.
Education Week characterized national progress as "spotty." While many states made significant strides in preparing pupils for college-level courses, funding levels and equality were static. Wyoming and West Virginia led in improving funding, earning A grades, but overall, the national grade held steady at C.
As a whole, the U.S. earned a C+, up from a C last year. But comparisons aren't exact because the study placed added emphasis on what it called schools' climate for learning — safety and security, peer interaction, and positive approaches to discipline.
The authors explicitly framed those data in the context of the shootings last month that killed 20 pupils and six teachers and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
While teacher quality was called the leading factor in a school's success, cited by 92 percent of the educators, school climate also scored high, cited by three-quarters as being "very important."
"For the past couple decades, education reform has concentrated on the obviously academic factors that define schooling," like curricula, accountability and teacher assessments, said Christopher Swanson, vice president of Editorial Projects in Education
"While these issues are clearly important, there is growing agreement that a school's broader climate profoundly affects student achievement and serves as a precursor for effective instruction, deep engagement in learning and academic success," Swanson said.
Across all categories, no state earned an A, Education Week found. With a B+, Maryland was No. 1 for the fifth straight year.
"It's just wonderful," Betty Weller, president of the Maryland Education Association, told NBC station WBAL of Baltimore. "It's historic for our educators. It's historic for the state, and it's just fabulous for our students."
State school Superintendent Lillian Lowery said Thursday that she would use the data "to help make certain we have better classrooms for every student."
One of the biggest jumps was in Florida, which rose from 11th in 2011 to sixth last year, even though it was in the bottom third in the funding assessments.
Florida got high marks for closing the gap on math scores for the poverty disadvantaged but its overall achievement gains got just a "C" minus, and it was AP or advanced class performance that saved the state from a worse ranking.
State schools Chancellor Pam Stewart told NBC station WJHG of Panama City that while she was proud of the recognition, "we're never satisfied. We're always moving forward."
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