) -- Minnesota residents are at the top of the class when it comes to educational achievement -- but South Carolinians get an "F," we have found.
A look at four educational factors -- average SAT math scores, percentage of citizens with high-school diplomas, how many young people attend college and how many high schoolers watch too much TV -- reveals wide variations among U.S. states.
For instance, just 8.2% of residents in first-place Minnesota lack high-school educations -- roughly half of the 15.9% rate in last-place South Carolina. Similarly, 80.4% of Minnesota's 18- to 24-year-olds are enrolled in college, compared with just 49.9% of similarly aged South Carolinians.
Boston College education professor Ana Martinez-Aleman attributes much of the variations to a single factor -- how much money states spend on public schools.
"There's a cause-and-effect relationship between school funding and educational achievement," says Martinez-Aleman, who also serves as editor of the scholarly publication
Educational Policy Journal
. The expert says some states have long showered their secondary-school and public-university systems with big bucks, while others have made funding about as hard to come by as an "A" in calculus.
"Public-school funding is primarily derived from property taxes, and [state and local governments] determine property-tax rates," she says. "The lower your revenue stream, the lower your ability to fund education."
Martinez-Aleman adds that she's not surprised that all five states that ranked worst on the analysis are in the deep South, a region she says has historically had lower taxes and less educational spending. The professor also believes the South's poor showing partly stems from a legacy of past discrimination against minorities.
She thinks decisions made during segregation still result in inadequate funding for schools with lots of black and Hispanic students, setting many young people up for lower educational achievement.
"A school that's poorly funded tends to have fewer experienced teachers, fewer advanced courses, fewer extracurricular activities and fewer services like college counseling," Martinez-Aleman says. "So the [students are] handicapped."
Here's a look at the five states at the bottom of our analysis of educational achievement, which we compiled using the most-recent data available from The College Board and
Educational Policy Journal
's sister company,
States are ranked based on an average of where they placed among all 50 states and the District of Columbia on all four metrics analyzed. (Nine states and D.C. lacked data on TV watching by high schoolers, so we ranked them based on their average scores for the three other criteria studied.)
All Scholastic Aptitude Test math scores are from this year, while the percentage of students taking the SAT is based on average figures calculated by The College Board for 2002, 2011 and 2012.
Percentage figures for people in each state lacking high-school or general-equivalency degrees are as of 2010 and refer to residents 25 or older, while college-enrollment rates for each state's young people are as of 2008. Television-watching statistics are as of 2009: