The Best Public School Systems in the U.S. by County and Region

RewardExpert analyzed Department of Education data for every public school in the United States to determine which counties in each region have the highest quality public education systems.

RewardExpert

What parent or prospective parent doesn't want the best education possible for their children? Unless you're relatively wealthy, where you live is a decision that determines which schools your children will attend. In light of this, the already complex set of choices involved in purchasing a home gains another layer of complexity.

For instance, one might be more willing to pay higher property taxes or a higher sticker price if that home is situated in a good school district, or in a county with generally high performing schools. Alternately, it may make more sense to move from a major city to its suburbs, rather than pay through the nose for a private school education. Sure, it’s an investment in your child’s future, but it’s that and an investment itself to buy into a better school system.

It’s not easy to figure this out, and most never have more than a limited picture of the educational landscape. That’s why we dealt with the dirty data to analyze and synthesize a ranking of the counties with the top performing schools and most equitable outcomes in each of the six major geographical regions in the United States.

A Note on Equality in Public Education

Scales with male and female

Since public schools are funded by taxes, and tax revenues are strongly correlated with average incomes, whether locally or statewide, well-funded schools in well-heeled communities usually provide higher quality education. There are no guarantees, however, that this is always and everywhere the case.

The impact of well-to-do families, well-funded, staffed, and supplied schools shows up most clearly in performance statistics and standards, making it easy to overstate both achievement rates and the role played by income and tax policy.

Less money spent more judiciously can achieve more than a firehose of public funding and private investment. Thus, the mark of truly high quality public education is geographical, gender, and economic educational equity, the high performers in highly diverse communities, where none truly get left behind.

In our analysis we not only viewed performance as an average at the county level, but also factored in the performance gap between male and female students in math and reading, and the graduation and performance gaps between the student body as a whole and students with disabilities or from economically disadvantaged families. Complete equality in educational outcomes is a goal that some schools have managed to surpass: we counted higher performance and graduation rates for disadvantaged students as even better than equality.

Geographical Note

Globe icon

A handful of states with exceptionally rigorous curriculum standards and well-funded public schools, with significant accommodations and assistance for disabled and disadvantaged students, dominated our regional rankings so completely that, in the interest of geographical diversity, we have imposed a limit on the number of counties per state in each regional top five to a maximum of three, and in all but one case, to two.

States most affected by this limitation include New York and Iowa. In the former case, all of the top five counties in the northeast region were in N.Y. In the latter, while Iowa counties took only four of the top five in our ranking, these four counties were densely clustered, forming a contiguous region.

The states of Washington and North Carolina also exceeded our two county limit, while elsewhere only tough competition keeps the number of top ranked counties within our chosen parameters. If so, all laid claim to two out of the top five spots in their regions.

For the sake of geographical diversity, our top fives include at most two counties from any one state. Many common county names appear in multiple states, so one would do wise not to confuse them.

Northeast Region

The Top Five By Region

Orleans County, N.Y.

1
  • Overall county-wide average score of 94.15
  • Average graduation rate of 92%
  • Average percentage of students attaining math proficiency: 92%
  • Average percentage of students attaining reading and language arts proficiency: 95%
  • Average attainment gap of 4.5%

Chemung County, N.Y.

2
  • Overall county-wide average score of 94.01
  • Average graduation rate of 83%
  • Average percentage of students attaining math proficiency: 96%
  • Average percentage of students attaining reading and language arts proficiency: 95.5%
  • Average attainment gap of 2%

Northumberland County, PA

3
  • Overall county-wide average score of 91.11
  • Average graduation rate of 96%
  • Average percentage of students attaining math proficiency: 87%
  • Average percentage of students attaining reading and language arts proficiency: 87%
  • Average attainment gap of 10.12%

Garrett County, MD

4
  • Overall county-wide average score of 89.75
  • Average graduation rate of 83.49%
  • Average percentage of students attaining math proficiency: 82.83%
  • Average percentage of students attaining reading and language arts proficiency: 85.5%
  • Average attainment gap of 4.33%
  • Home to one Blue Ribbon School

Rockbridge County, VA

5
  • Overall county-wide average score of 89.74
  • Average graduation rate of 79.25%
  • Average percentage of students attaining math proficiency: 95%
  • Average percentage of students attaining reading and language arts proficiency: 92.5%
  • Average attainment gap of 6.13%
South Atlantic

The Top Five by Region

Forsyth County, GA

1
  • Overall county-wide average score of 92.16
  • Average graduation rate of 67.86%
  • Average percentage of students attaining math proficiency:72.44%
  • Average percentage of students attaining reading and language arts proficiency: 77.69%
  • Average attainment gap of 14.29%
  • Home to three blue ribbon schools

Madison County, NC

2
  • Overall county-wide average score of 85.11
  • Average graduation rate of 91%
  • Average percentage of students attaining math proficiency: 74.5%
  • Average percentage of students attaining reading and language arts proficiency: 74.5%
  • Average attainment gap of 14.88%

Davie County, NC

3
  • Overall county-wide average score of 82.59
  • Average graduation rate of 91%
  • Average percentage of students attaining math proficiency: 84.5%
  • Average percentage of students attaining reading and language arts proficiency: 84.5%
  • Average attainment gap of 32.25%

Bamberg County, SC

4
  • Overall county-wide average score of 80.05
  • Average graduation rate of 82%
  • Average percentage of students attaining math proficiency: 77%
  • Average percentage of students attaining reading and language arts proficiency: 95%
  • Average attainment gap of 4.38%

Santa Rosa County, FL

5
  • Overall county-wide average score of 79.33
  • Average graduation rate of 62.22%
  • Average percentage of students attaining math proficiency: 67.93%
  • Average percentage of students attaining reading and language arts proficiency: 70.08%
  • Average attainment gap of 7.52%
South Central Region

The Top Five By Region

Avoyelles Parish, LA

1
  • Overall county-wide average score of 92.23
  • Average graduation rate of 91%
  • Average percentage of students attaining math proficiency: 92%
  • Average percentage of students attaining reading and language arts proficiency: 96%
  • Average attainment gap of 0.25%
  • Home to one Blue Ribbon School

Karnes County, TX

2
  • Overall county-wide average score of 89.75
  • Average graduation rate of 80.26%
  • Average percentage of students attaining math proficiency: 92%
  • Average percentage of students attaining reading and language arts proficiency: 93.5%
  • Average attainment gap of 11.43%

Nowata County, OK

3
  • Overall county-wide average score of 89.48
  • Average graduation rate of 91%
  • Average percentage of students attaining math proficiency: 69.5%
  • Average percentage of students attaining reading and language arts proficiency: 69.5%
  • Average attainment gap of 9.75%

Mason County, TX

4
  • Overall county-wide average score of 88.82
  • Average graduation rate of 91%
  • Average percentage of students attaining math proficiency: 82%
  • Average percentage of students attaining reading and language arts proficiency: 90%
  • Average attainment gap of 8.13%

Major County, OK

5
  • Overall county-wide average score of 88.76
  • Average graduation rate of 84.5%
  • Average percentage of students attaining math proficiency: 74.5%
  • Average percentage of students attaining reading and language arts proficiency: 90%
  • Average attainment gap of 3.75%
Midwest

The Top Five By Region

Union County, IA

1
  • Overall county-wide average score of 94.43
  • Average graduation rate of 96%
  • Average percentage of students attaining math proficiency: 87%
  • Average percentage of students attaining reading and language arts proficiency: 92%
  • Average attainment gap of 5%

Dickinson County, IA

2
  • Overall county-wide average score of 90.88
  • Average graduation rate of 94%
  • Average percentage of students attaining math proficiency: 88.5%
  • Average percentage of students attaining reading and language arts proficiency: 91%
  • Average attainment gap of 5.75%

Burt County, NE

3
  • Overall county-wide average score of 89.45
  • Average graduation rate of 78.02%
  • Average percentage of students attaining math proficiency: 88.16%
  • Average percentage of students attaining reading and language arts proficiency: 88.17%
  • Average attainment gap of 2.12%

Sully County, SD

4
  • Overall county-wide average score of 89.44
  • Average graduation rate of 81%
  • Average percentage of students attaining math proficiency: 80%
  • Average percentage of students attaining reading and language arts proficiency: 69.5%
  • No attainment gap or graduation rate gap for disadvantaged or disabled students

Hamilton County, IN

5
  • Overall county-wide average score of 88.82
  • Average graduation rate of 70.20%
  • Average percentage of students attaining math proficiency: 79.75%
  • Average percentage of students attaining reading and language arts proficiency: 71.70%
  • Average attainment gap of 13.94%
  • Three Blue Ribbon Schools
  • We see a wide range of outcomes across schools in this county: the good schools are very good, and the bad ones are abysmal.

The Top Five By Region

Lincoln County, NV

1
  • Overall county-wide average score of 86.87
  • Average graduation rate of 82.75%
  • Average percentage of students attaining math proficiency: 74.5%
  • Average percentage of students attaining reading and language arts proficiency: 79.75%
  • Average attainment gap of 4.38%

Teton County, WY

2
  • Overall county-wide average score of 86.23
  • Average graduation rate of 68.00%
  • Average percentage of students attaining math proficiency: 80%
  • Average percentage of students attaining reading and language arts proficiency: 80%
  • No achievement gap observed

Pershing County, NV

3
  • Overall county-wide average score of 84.23
  • Average graduation rate of 91%
  • Average percentage of students attaining math proficiency: 67%
  • Average percentage of students attaining reading and language arts proficiency: 74.5%
  • Students with disabilities and economically disadvantaged families outperformed the average overall by 3.13%

Lewis County, ID

4
  • Overall county-wide average score of 83.52
  • Average graduation rate of 74.5%
  • Average percentage of students attaining math proficiency: 80%
  • Average percentage of students attaining reading and language arts proficiency: 30%
  • Average attainment gap of 2.5%

Goshen County, WY

5
  • Overall county-wide average score of 83.47
  • Average graduation rate of 81%
  • Average percentage of students attaining math proficiency: 49.5%
  • Average percentage of students attaining reading and language arts proficiency: 59.5%
  • Average attainment gap of 0.13%

The Top Five By Region

Curry County, OR

1
  • Overall county-wide average score of 84.52
  • Average graduation rate of 77.75%
  • Average percentage of students attaining math proficiency: 80%
  • Average percentage of students attaining reading and language arts proficiency: 39.75%
  • Average attainment gap of 4.94%

Whitman County, WA

2
  • Overall county-wide average score of 77.69
  • Average graduation rate of 65.88%
  • Average percentage of students attaining math proficiency: 68.93%
  • Average percentage of students attaining reading and language arts proficiency: 54.86%
  • Average attainment gap of 8.16%

Wahkiakum County, WA

3
  • Overall county-wide average score of 76.41
  • Average graduation rate of 81%
  • Average percentage of students attaining math proficiency: 80%
  • Average percentage of students attaining reading and language arts proficiency: 49.5%
  • Average attainment gap of 14.88%

Harney County, OR

4
  • Overall county-wide average score of 75.90
  • Average graduation rate of 58.21%
  • Average percentage of students attaining math proficiency: 74.75%
  • Average percentage of students attaining reading and language arts proficiency: 49.75%
  • Average attainment gap of 3.88%

Los Angeles County, CA

5
  • Overall county-wide average score of 74.53
  • Average graduation rate of 68.71%
  • Average percentage of students attaining math proficiency: 44.57%
  • Average percentage of students attaining reading and language arts proficiency: 28.55%
  • Average attainment gap of 8.43%
  • Four Blue Ribbon Schools
  • This is an enormous county in terms of population, and it has an extraordinarily wide range of schools and outcomes. For instance, at one school there is a 50% achievement gap, while at another, students with disadvantages or disabilities outperform their peers by 18.75%. Choose wisely!

Earn Cash for Your Back-to-School Shopping

It’s that time of year again. The kids are heading back to school, and you know they’re going to need everything from new clothes to books and pencils. Why not apply for a great cashback credit card and get a little back for those purchases?

Get 2% Cash Back

While no cashback card is going to offer a specific bonus for back-to-school purchases, there are a few that will give you 2% back on all purchases. And that’s a great rate of return.

The Citi Double Cash card will give you 1% cash back when you make a purchase and another 1% back when you pay it off. It also has no annual fee and comes with a $100 sign-up bonus.

Citi® Double Cash Card

INTRO APR on Purchases
N/A
INTRO apr on Balance Transfer
N/A
Regular APR
15.24% to 25.24% Variable±
Annual Fee
$0
Rewards Program
Citi® Double Cash Reward Program
Bonuses & Rewards
  • % 2% on All Purchases
  • 3% foreign transaction fee
Show More Details
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The Discover it card offers 5% back in quarterly rotating categories and 1% back for everything else. The current bonus category is for restaurants, so that won’t help much for school-related expenses.

Discover it® - Cashback Match™

Discover it® Miles Card
How to apply
To apply for this offer please contact
Discover Bank
Read Review
INTRO APR on Purchases
0% intro APR for 14 months from date of account opening
INTRO apr on Balance Transfer
0% intro APR for 14 months from date of first transfer, for transfers under this offer that post to your account by August 10, 2018
Regular APR
13.49% to 24.49% Variable±
Annual Fee
$0
Rewards Program
Cashback Bonus®
Bonuses & Rewards
  • % 5% in rotating categories each quarter like Gas, Dining, Amazon.com, Wholesale Clubs and more
  • % 1% on Travel
  • % 1% on Groceries
  • % 1% on All Other Purchases
  • Up to 5% cash back
  • Discover automatically matches all the cash back you earn dollar for dollar at the end of your first year
  • No Foreign Transaction Fee
  • % 3% balance transfer fee
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The first year you have the card, though, Discover will match all of the cash back you earn. That means you’ll be earning 10% in the rotating categories and 2% for everything else, including school supplies. There’s no annual fee for this card.

The Biggest Bonuses

The other option is to go for the biggest sign-up bonus you can find. For no-fee cashback cards, you’ll typically max out at $150.

But the Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa is currently offering an impressive $200 bonus if you spend $1,000 in the first three months. You’ll also get 1.5% cash back for all of your purchases.

Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card

INTRO APR on Purchases
0.00% introductory APR for 12 months
INTRO apr on Balance Transfer
0.00% introductory APR for 12 months
Regular APR
14.49% to 26.49% Variable±
Annual Fee
$0
Bonuses & Rewards
  • 1.5% Cash Back on All Purchases
  • $200 cash rewards after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months
  • 3% foreign transaction fee
Show More Details
Hide Details

If you’re willing to spend a little on a card, the American Express Blue Cash Preferred card also has a $200 sign-up bonus, plus it earns 6% back at supermarkets and 3% back at gas stations. Not bad for a $95 annual fee.

American Express® Blue Cash Preferred® Card

INTRO APR on Purchases
0% introductory APR for the first 12 months
INTRO apr on Balance Transfer
0% introductory APR for the first 12 months on balance transfers requested within 60 days of account opening
Regular APR
14.74% to 25.74% Variable±
Annual Fee
$95
Bonuses & Rewards
  • % 6% at Supermarkets
  • % 3% on Gas and at Select Department Stores
  • % 1% on Dining
  • % 1% on All Other Purchases
  • $200 back after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months
  • 2.7% foreign transaction fee
Show More Details
Hide Details

It’s Always a Good Time to Save a Few Bucks

Your kids need new outfits and school supplies, so you need a new cashback card to help you save a few bucks. After all, we all know how expensive those back-to-school shopping sprees can be.

Methodology

methodology

RewardExpert analysed data provided by the U.S. Department of Education and identified the following data points for use in our analysis: overall graduation rates, the percentage of all students who passed math and reading and language arts proficiency exams, plus these same figures for demographic subgroups, including economically disadvantaged and disabled students. These data were provided and analysed at the level of individual schools. We then calculated the difference between these figures for all students and those in disadvantaged demographic groups, so as to include a measure of educational equality in each.

We then aggregated these data to the county level, added the average Department of Housing and Urban Development school proficiency index for all school districts in each county, and took a count of the total number of schools within each county that have been named Blue Ribbon Schools. We then ranked each county according to an average of scores calculated for 1) graduation rate, 2) math and reading proficiency attainment, 3) equality of educational outcomes, and 4) the number of Blue Ribbon schools. Where detailed data was missing, the HUD school proficiency index was used.

Sources:

U.S. Department of Education

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

U.S. Census Bureau

Indicators

Sources: