Would you be happy with a B grade?

In a state-by-state analysis of education systems, produced by Education Week, that's the grade earned by New Jersey — 85.9 points out of a possible 100.

And that score is the second-best in the nation, which earned a C grade (74.5) overall. Only Massachusetts, with a B+, scored better than New Jersey.

Looking at several measures across three categories — chance for success, school finance, and K-12 achievement — the Garden State scored higher than the national average in nearly every instance.

"We know that our schools in New Jersey are always ranked among the very best in the nation," said Steve Baker, director of communications for the New Jersey Education Association. "We think that this is a combination of exceptional effort by the people who work in our schools, a willingness by the state of New Jersey to invest in public education, and involved parents who care about their child's education."

The analysis took a "cradle to career" approach when evaluating the state of education. New Jersey ranked in the top 10 for family income and education among parents.

"Those factors get kids off to a good start," said Sterling Lloyd, assistant director of Education Week's research arm.

The Garden State's 64.1 preschool enrollment rate and 90.1 high school graduation rate each topped the national average significantly.

The state outperformed the nation nearly across the board for mathematics and reading achievement at fourth and eighth grade.

"We find that where students live make a real difference, and students in New Jersey are achieving at higher levels than their peers in other states," Lloyd said.

Per-pupil spending in New Jersey was recorded at $16,337, compared to a national rate of $12,526. Lloyd noted there's no consensus on a link between spending and student achievement, but said residents should be pleased the state is devoting more resources to education than the average state.

While the state fares well on most metrics, it fell way short in funding equity among districts. Ranked 47th in the nation, there's a difference of $9,316 in spending per pupil between the highest- and lowest-spending districts.

"We have been underfunding our school funding formula and that has led to some inequities across the state and some lack of opportunities for students that we do need to address," Baker said. "We need to get back to funding that formula so that we can close the gap between what children need and what they're receiving."


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