Quick, name the most-educated state in America.
If you said California, you are wrong. Way wrong, in fact. Of 50 states graded in a recent WalletHub education-status survey, California finished in the middle of the pack, literally — 25th place overall.
Which is fairly discouraging, considering: First, the amount of tax dollars spent on public education, and second, the fact that for many years California’s schools were the nation’s gold standard of public education.
WalletHub conducted its survey using metrics in more than a dozen areas, generally categorizing everything from the share of adults with at least a high school diploma, to the gender gap in education attainment.
Here was the first shocker — California ranks dead last when it comes to the percentage of the total population holding a high school diploma.
At the other end of the spectrum, California is tied with five other states for having the smallest gender gap in overall educational attainment. That is encouraging news indeed, given the pay gap that exists between men and women doing the same work.
The top five states in the survey, in order, are Massachusetts, Maryland, Connecticut, Vermont and Colorado.
As we’ve come to expect, impoverished Southern states brought up the rear in overall rankings. Mississippi was last in educational attainment. The bottom-feeders are states that struggle with the most basic of funding responsibilities, especially with regard to public education.
Other than being tied for the top spot in the gender-gap category, California also scored well with a second-place ranking in average university quality.
But beyond those two categories, the survey makes it abundantly clear that California is struggling when it comes to educating its citizens, both children and adults.
But wait a second, you may be thinking, with its history in the high-tech sectors, Silicon Valley and all that, wouldn’t California be among leaders in the percentage of people holding under-graduate and advanced degrees?
The short answer is — no. California ranks 14th in both bachelor and advanced degree holders. Not bad, but certainly not what one would expect from a state as high-tech-oriented as California.
The states with the most highly educated work force are clustered in the Northeast, with Massachusetts holding the top spot.
Surveys are a little like economists. You put 50 of them in a room and ask everyone the same question, and you’ll likely get 50 different answers. It’s all a matter of perspective.
But such research does tend to shed light on problem areas, and the WalletHub effort makes it clear that if California wants to get back on top, it needs to do some fundamental repair work.
The spotlight of public attention has lately been focused on schools for all the wrong reasons, chief among them the mass-murder shooting at a South Florida high school that sent shock waves throughout society.
The attention has rightly been on the victims, the accused shooter, and the guns. Lost in this shuffle is what such disruptions do to education, the actual schooling of America’s young people. The massive teacher strike in West Virginia is also a major distraction, more political than educational.
This nation and its citizens must not lose sight of the real goal, which is to give our youngest generations the opportunity to achieve a quality education. If that means turning high school campuses into de facto armed bastions, so be it.
The WalletHub education attainment survey is an eye-opener, especially for California. This state and its economy cannot afford second-class education. We must get back on top.