By Haddon Libby

How good or bad is the public education system from pre-K through high school in California when compared to the rest of the country?

US News & World Report tracks this information and publishes its rankings each year.  Rankings are based on the overall experience of a child and include things like percentage that go to preschool, standardized test scores, high school graduation rates and college preparedness.

The top-ranked state for Pre-K through high school is known as a bedroom community to New York City, the fictional character Tony Soprano and a musician known as The Boss.  It is hard to believe but New Jersey has the best school system.  Half of the state’s adult-aged residents have a college education.  The state has the top reading scores in the nation as well as being the 3rd best prepared group for college readiness.


Second on the list is the home of a wicked good time, fictional character Sam Malone of Cheers fame and a messy tea pah-tee some 250 years ago.  Massachusetts ranks highly due to its top scores in math and a #2 position when it comes to reading.    The east coast grabs third place as well with Connecticut as this state is tops in preschool enrollment and college preparedness.  Rounding out the top ten are Vermont, Illinois, New Hampshire, Indiana, New York, Utah and Wisconsin.

Before I disclose California’s ranking, let’s take a quick look at states with public school systems that are producing Amerikans wit’ poor edumacation whether it be in reading or math.  New Mexico ranks last with the worst reading and math skills.  Oklahoma comes in 49th followed by Arizona, Alaska, Nevada, West Virginia, Mississippi, Alabama, Oregon and Louisiana.

California ranks in 38th place – a far cry from its top ten rankings of decades ago.  Parents do not seem to take preschool seriously as we rank in the 36th position.  Reading scores are average in 29thwith math scores in 38th.  While graduation rates are strong in 14th place, we are in 35th when it comes to college preparedness.

Using data from Great Schools, 59% of the 29 schools that make up the Palm Springs Unified School District are considered below average with 26% considered average and 15% above average.  Remember that this is for a state that is 38th of 50 which means that 85% of the schools are average or below average in a below average state.  Cielo Vista Charter and Rancho Mirage Elementary are the top two schools in the district.  Cathedral City and Palm Springs high schools are the top-rated high schools in the district. Mt. San Jacinto and Desert Hot Springs have the weakest high schools.  Desert Hot Springs also has the two lowest rated middle schools and elementary schools.

The 36 schools that make up the Desert Sands Unified School have 61% considered below average, 18% average and 21% above average.  The top elementary schools are Carter, For, Monroe and Washington. For middle school, Palm Desert has the best middle and high schools in the district.  The weakest elementary schools are amongst the worst in the state and include Kennedy and Hoover. For middle school, Jefferson and Indio Middle are amongst the worst of the worst.  For high school, Indio ranks the lowest excluding continuation schools like Amistad and Summit.

If we are to improve the economic condition of working-age people in the Coachella Valley, it starts with a good education.  Results make it clear that our valley struggles to fulfill this need as we are generally below average in a below average state.  Unless parents take an active interest in their child’s education and the school attended, things will not get better.  Education starts at home and without a good home environment that values education, the best efforts of educators are muted by class size, state mandates and overcrowding.

For more information on our local schools, please visit at

Haddon Libby is the Founder and Chief Investment Officer of Winslow Drake Investment Management.  For information on our services, please visit