The 20 ‘Worst’ Public Schools in America

student works on exam booklet
A student works on an exam book | Tim Boyle/Getty Images

We often hear data about how American students are performing in science, math, or reading. For instance, in 2015, the United States ranked 24th in reading, 25th in science, and 40th in math according to data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Hearing education statistics like these, coupled with bullying statistics and other concerns, it’s no wonder many parents want to study a school inside and out before agreeing to send their child there. School choice is a decision that can have a profound impact on a child’s life.
Most parents simply want to find a safe and comfortable place where their children can develop strong scholastic abilities and social skills. When all is said and done, the goal for most families is to do the best they can to prepare their children for life outside of the nest.
The problem, though, is not all schools are created equally — not by a long shot. Schools have various levels of funding, professionalism, and skill levels among staff, as well as various types of community members. Because of this, some parents decide to go with the home school, magnet school, charter school, or private school options.
For those who choose private schools, they end up shelling out major cash for an option that may or may not be a better choice. And of course, no school is perfect. There are about 33,600 private schools in the U.S. that enrolled nearly 5.2 million students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics’ most recent estimates. But a majority of American students — about 50.4 million pupils — will go to one of the 98,300 public schools in the country.
Neighborhood Scout, a website that collects and analyzes data on U.S. neighborhoods and cities, determined the best and worst public schools in the United States. These Neighborhood Scout lists are based on students’ test scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress and No Child Left Behind. We list the rankings from that site but then did some more digging to find those schools’ performance data compared to their home states. Here are the 20 worst schools in the nation.
Keep in mind that several factors, such as safety, dropout rates, college admission rates, and even location, can come into play when determining which schools are the “best” and “worst.” So while these lists do evaluate schools based on students’ academics, they do not account for every single factor that makes a school a quality educational institution.

20. Marion-Sterling Elementary School

third graders reading books
Third-graders read in summer school in Chicago | Tim Boyle/Getty Images
  • Grade 8 reading proficiency: 6.3% vs. 47.5% in Ohio
  • Grade 8 math proficiency: 6.3% vs. 52.7% in Ohio
  • Grade 8 science proficiency: 7.1% vs. 64.9% in Ohio

We start out the list of lowest-performing schools in Ohio, located in the Cleveland area. Although it has “elementary” in the name, this school educates students from kindergarten through grade 8. Scores in each main subject area fall well below the statewide averages among eighth-grade students.

19. Hale Junior High School

  • Reading performance index: 32% proficient
  • Math/Algebra 1 performance index: 20% proficient
  • Science performance index: 27% proficient

Every state reports its information differently. In Oklahoma, proficiency ratings are compared within each school, not necessarily to state averages. Hale Junior High School, located in Tulsa, is one of many schools in Oklahoma to receive a failing “F” grade from the state Department of Education. That grade is given when half of the students, or more, do not meet the proficiency standards for each grade level. Such is the case with this junior high school, where proficiency levels in each of the of major subject areas fell well below 50%.

18. Hope College Prep High School

students with test scores
Students look at test scores | Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
  • English Language Arts proficiency rate: 9%
  • Math proficiency rate: 3%

The state of Illinois presents school data from the PARCC exam, a version of Common Core standards. In this school in Chicago, only 9% of students met or exceeded expectations on the English Language Arts section. A mere 3% met or exceeded expectations in the math portion of exams. In a composite benchmark, only 6% of the students from this school are considered ready for the next level.

17. Cleveland Community School

We would typically include proficiency rates among main subject areas, but the Ohio Department of Education does not provide them for this school. The reason? This charter school was shut down due to poor performance in 2015, the latest year of data from Neighborhood Scout.
“The School’s performance has generally been a failure,” the department said in a letter to the school in August 2015. “The school has completely failed to meet the student performance requirements of the contract and generally has a long history of poor academic performance.”

16. Martin Luther King Jr. Middle

hand points to a list of test results
Students check exam results | Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty Images
  • Reading proficiency: 24% vs. 62% in Virginia
  • Math proficiency: 19% vs. 62% in Virginia
  • Science proficiency: 20% vs. 67% in Virginia

The only school to appear on this list from Virginia, this middle school in Richmond had better proficiency scores than many other schools ranked by Neighborhood Scout. However, it’s still concerning because less than a quarter of all students in the school are considered proficient in the core subjects. It’s especially troubling when compared to the state averages.

15. Douglass Middle School

  • Reading performance index: 34% proficient
  • Math/Algebra 1 performance index: 29% proficient
  • Science performance index: 32% proficient

This public middle school, located in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, is another school where less than half of students are showing grade-level competencies. That’s disheartening, considering they have several more years until graduation.

14. Southside Academy

students looking at study materials
Students look at study materials | Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
  • Grade 8 reading proficiency: 12.5% vs. 47.5% in Ohio
  • Grade 8 math proficiency: 12.5% vs. 52.7% in Ohio
  • Grade 8 science proficiency: 25% vs. 64.9% in Ohio

Southside Academy, a charter school in Youngstown, Ohio, has some of the highest proficiency ratings among the other Ohio schools on this list. Still, according to other factors in Neighborhood Scout’s data, the school has not performed well enough to get out of the top 20 worst schools in the nation.

13. DeLaSalle Charter School

  • English 2 proficiency: 41.5% vs. 61.9% statewide
  • Algebra 1 proficiency: 24% vs. 47.6% statewide

In some areas of the country, parents can choose to send their children to charter schools instead of their public school. DeLaSalle in Kansas City, Missouri, is one such option and is set up primarily for students who might be at risk of not graduating from high school. However, the students scores are much lower than the state averages. The school fell far below the performance of others in Missouri, landing it on this list.

12. Celia Clinton Elementary School

elementary school students
Elementary school students | Chris Hondros/Getty Images
  • Reading performance index: 35% proficient
  • Math performance index: 24% proficient
  • Science performance index: 21% proficient

Students in this elementary school in Tulsa, Oklahoma, struggle across the board to perform on grade level — at least in standardized testing. Students in this school failed to have 50% or more of its students proficient in any subject area, earning it an “F” grade from the state’s education department.

11. Wogaman 5-8 School

  • Grade 8 reading proficiency: 7.0% vs. 47.5% in Ohio
  • Grade 8 math proficiency: 11.3% vs. 52.7% in Ohio
  • Grade 8 science proficiency: 7.0% vs. 64.9% in Ohio

This middle school located in Dayton, Ohio, is another one in the state that’s falling short of the average performance among eighth graders. The school’s proficiency rates are well below the average, likely a cause for concern for school and state officials.

10. Luis Munoz Marin School

students working with tablets
Students work with technology | Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty Images
  • Grade 8 reading proficiency: 1.6% vs. 47.5% in Ohio
  • Grade 8 math proficiency: 9.4% vs. 52.7% in Ohio
  • Grade 8 science proficiency: 1.6% vs. 64.9% in Ohio

Of the failing schools in Ohio and on this list, many of them are charter schools. The Luis Munoz Marin Dual Language Academy is another example. The school educates children in grades kindergarten through 8, but the proficiency rates of its oldest students are remarkably low. It’s difficult to get the full picture without knowing the number of students taking the test in each grade. (A lower eighth-grade population, for example, means that one or two struggling students would skew the proficiency data more heavily.) However, third-grade data for the same school is not much more encouraging.

9. South Philadelphia High School

  • English Language Arts proficiency: 21.82%
  • Math proficiency: 14.91%
  • Science proficiency: 7.84%

The next two schools on the list from Neighborhood Scout are public high schools in the School District of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The first is South Philadelphia, which had less than a quarter of its students proficient in English, math, or science. Pennsylvania does not calculate an average proficiency across the state, but this school was one that received a failing grade overall.

8. Frankford High School

Stressed college student for exam
Students taking exams |
  • English Language Arts proficiency: 25.15%
  • Math proficiency: 14.97%
  • Science proficiency: 4.97%

The English proficiency score for students at this Philadelphia high school is slightly higher than its sister school in the same district, but the science score is lower. Regardless, only a quarter of students are proficient in English, and significantly fewer students are proficient in math and science. Unsurprisingly, the school received low overall marks from Pennsylvania’s education department.

7. Crow Agency School

  • Science proficiency: 14% vs. 39% in Montana

The education department offers very little data about Crow Agency School, a small elementary school in Montana. What we do see is that science results are below the state average, though the school doesn’t provide testing results from reading or math. We do see that the school reached its most recent benchmark for showing growth among its students, which is a glimmer of hope. However, that same report also notes the school is still slated for restructuring if additional growth doesn’t happen.

6. Broadway Academy

School notebooks in variety of colors
School supplies |
  • Grade 8 reading proficiency: 18.2% vs. 47.5% in Ohio
  • Grade 8 math proficiency: 9.1% vs. 52.7% in Ohio

There was no science data available for eighth-graders at this Cleveland-area K-8 charter school, suggesting the school either doesn’t give the test or did not have enough students take it for the data to be significant for the state. However, the proficiency rates for its students in math and reading was not promising.

5. F.D. Moon Elementary School

  • Reading performance index: 23% proficient
  • Math performance index: 11% proficient
  • Science performance index: 9% proficient

Neighborhood Scout lists this elementary school as the worst one among those on the list in Oklahoma, and the state data support that ranking. Less than a quarter of all students in the school are proficient in reading, math, or science — earning it an “F” grade from the state.

4. Booker T. Washington Middle School

school buses
School buses | David McNew/Getty Images
  • English Language Arts proficiency: 0%
  • Math proficiency: 0%

Like the state of Illinois, Maryland also uses PARCC tests to determine proficiency measures in each school. For both English and math at this middle school in Baltimore, no students were able to score high enough to score in the “met” or “exceeded” expectations columns. Instead, all students placed somewhere in the categories of “not met,” “partially met,” or “approached” expectations.

3. North High School

  • English 1 proficiency: 21.8% vs. 55.4% in Ohio
  • Algebra 1 proficiency: 10.3% vs. 48.0% in Ohio
  • Biology proficiency: 17.8% vs. 65.4% in Ohio

This high school in Akron, Ohio’s public school district has also failed to meet the benchmarks of success, at least by Neighborhood Scout’s standards. When we look at state data, it’s easy to see why. Average proficiency rates across the state are nothing to brag about, but this school’s scores fall well below that measuring stick, too.

2. Fairview PreK-8 School

elementary school kids in school corridor
Young students |
  • Grade 8 reading proficiency: 8.9% vs. 47.5% in Ohio
  • Grade 8 math proficiency: 4.4% vs. 52.7% in Ohio
  • Grade 8 science proficiency: 4.5% vs. 64.9% in Ohio

This early education school rounds out the last of several poorly performing institutions in Ohio. The Dayton-area public school had particularly low scores for its oldest students in eighth grade. Students weren’t above 10% proficiency in any of the three major subject areas, falling well behind their peers in other schools across the state. In fact, the state of Ohio gives each school in the state a letter grade that corresponds with their achievement. Every single one of the Ohio schools on this list earned an “F.”

1. East St. Louis Lincoln Middle School

  • English Language Arts proficiency rate: 14%
  • Math proficiency rate: 3%

This middle school in East St. Louis, Illinois, was deemed by Neighborhood Scout to be the worst public school in the country. Illinois offers a small snapshot of why this is the case: The school has notoriously low performance rates on its Common Core PARCC tests. Only 8% of students in the school are considered ready for the next academic level, which doesn’t give much confidence for their performance in high school and beyond, academically speaking.