Bright Spots

Short case studies of selected states to help illustrate the data in this tool.

The Bright Spots combine state data with policy environment context to paint a picture of student success.  While no state is showing uniform success across all segments of the education pipeline, some states are showing impressive improvements across segments of the pipeline and/or population with focus and sustained commitment.  As states grapple with their response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to identify areas of momentum so progress can continue – and to be aware of widening gaps to accelerate intervention.

Success factors

To identify our Bright Spots, we first ranked all 50 states in each data bucket and then reviewed the top quartile of states, within and across buckets. We then further analyzed those that showed improvement across several data points, with a focus on understanding the policy behind improvements.


There must be a vision for what a state wants to achieve, from governors or other key policy makers.


Leadership vision must be backed by a clear policy agenda, based on evidence, that is adopted and implemented.


As policy is being implemented, aligned supports – including funding – are provided to increase the chances for success.

Strategic Alignment

Intentional coordination is made across policy and funding to better connect work in Early childhood, K12, Postsecondary, and Workforce.

Stakeholder Engagement

Efforts to improve student success are backed by stakeholders with a vested interest in improved outcomes (parents, students, the business community, advocates, philanthropies).

Sustained Commitment

Improving access to opportunity for all young people requires efforts to be sustained, often over many years and across political administrations.

Bright spot states

When some of these ingredients are in place, bright spots begin to develop.  When states marshal all of them in an aligned, strategic way, we will begin to see transformation.

California: Accelerating Hispanic Attainment

California’s strategic policy alignment and targeted stakeholder engagement and support has led to strong, steady progress in closing attainment gaps, especially for Hispanic students. In fourth-grade reading, a nine percentage point increase from 2011 to 2019 means that about 24,000 more Hispanic students each year meet proficiency standards statewide. 

Florida: Closing Opportunity Gaps

Florida’s strong leadership and sustained commitment to policy goals over time has led to impressive gains in reading and math proficiency and an increase of 23,000 on-time high school graduations each year – with a 16 percentage point gain in Black student graduation between 2014 and 2018.

Mississippi: Improving Literacy and Numeracy

A sustained commitment to improving education through policy, educator supports, and strategic alignment of goals around literacy has led to nation-leading gains in reading and math proficiency between 2011 and 2019 in a state where about half of public-school students are Black. 

Oregon: Strategic Alignment

Oregon boasted the highest increase in high school graduation rates across all 50 states between 2014 and 2018, thanks to sustained attention from state leaders to the education pipeline from eighth grade through college graduation. The state produces the equivalent of 3,000 additional graduates each year and has made substantial improvements in college attainment rates thanks to committed leadership with innovative policy and funding strategies. 

Virginia: Growing at the Top

Virginia has capitalized on a strategic alignment of leadership, funding, and policy implementation to boost its college graduation rates from already-lofty levels. Between 2014 and 2018, 42,000 additional adults between the ages of 25 and 34 obtained bachelor’s degrees or higher, 10,000 of which were Black adults.