The rankings by Education Week have been promoted by Gov. Martin O'Malley and many other elected officials who have pushed for increased investment in education over the past decade. The state received high marks for overall student achievement, which has been on the rise on national tests, and for how equitably it allocates funds to different schools.
"School finance has been an anchor for us. We do have an equitable funding formula," interim state schools Superintendent Bernard J. Sadusky said.
The state got its best grade, an A, for its early education programs and for preparing students for college and jobs after graduation. Maryland also ranked first among states in the percentage of students who do well on Advanced Placement tests. The state ranked in the middle of states for its academic standards.
No one was more relieved than Sadusky late Wednesday when he shared the news with his staff.
"If it had been two, five or seven, my picture would have been on the bulletin board, and I would have been out of here," Sadusky said, referring to a feared slipping in the rankings.
Sadusky stepped in over the summer as interim superintendent while the state school board looks for a replacement for Nancy S. Grasmick, who held the job for two decades. He said he was delighted, but the state has much more work to do.
In particular, Sadusky said, the state must make more progress in closing the achievement gap between minority and poor students and the rest of the population. Maryland has the greatest gap of any state in the nation in math achievement between poor students and those who don't qualify for the subsidized lunch program.
Students who graduate from Maryland public schools should be prepared for the jobs that are available and for college, he said.
Maryland has not yet incorporated international standards for English, science and social studies into the curriculum students must learn by the end of senior year in high school, the Education Week report said.
Massachusetts, New York, and Virginia joined Maryland among the highest achievers. The District of Columbia, South Dakota and Nebraska were among the lowest achievers.