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Iowa is quite possibly the top Midwestern state in terms of public education. In 2019, the state’s high school graduation rate hit an all-time high of 91.4%, which is over six points higher than the national rate. Unsurprisingly, the Hawkeye State’s five best school districts perform remarkably well in all areas. 

Johnston Community School District is the best public school system in Iowa. Comprising five elementary schools, two middle schools, a high school, and a number of other facilities, JCSD is one of the largest districts in the state and has an enrollment of around 7,400 students. Despite its size, JCSD boasts a long tradition of academic excellence, boasting a 97% graduation rate and Math and RLA proficiency scores of 88% and 86%, respectively. 

Earning the #2 spot is Southeast Polk Community School District, serving an enrollment of 7,000 students in the Des Moines Metro area. The district’s 98% graduation rate is tied for the best in the state. 

Linn-Mar Community School District is the 3rd best in Iowa. Students at Linn-Mar’s seven elementary schools, two middle schools and one high school all perform above state and national levels in assessment tests, and seven became National Merit Scholar Semifinalists in 2018. 

#4 Ames Community School District is perhaps the most decorated public school district in Iowa state history. Throughout its history, Ames High School has produced 15 Presidential scholars, 23 straight State Science Olympiad Championships, and more athletic state championships than any other school in the state. 

Rounding out the list is Cedar Falls Schools, a large district comprising seven elementary schools, two junior high schools, and one high school. Every school in the district is among the highest-performing in the state, academically, and CFS was recognized by the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council for advancing STEM education throughout the state. 

Top School Districts in Iowa, 2020

RankSchool DistrictCity
1Johnston Comm School DistrictJohnston
2Southeast Polk Comm School DistrictPleasant Hill
3Linn-Mar Comm School DistrictMarion
4Ames Comm School DistrictAmes
5Cedar Falls Comm School DistrictCedar Falls
6Bettendorf Comm School DistrictBettendorf
7Urbandale Comm School DistrictUrbandale
8Indianola Comm School DistrictIndianola
9Dallas Center-Grimes Comm School DistrictDallas Center
10Western Dubuque Comm School DistrictFarley
11College Comm School DistrictCedar Rapids
12Norwalk Comm School DistrictNorwalk
13Pella Comm School DistrictPella
14Glenwood Comm School DistrictGlenwood
15Winterset Comm School DistrictWinterset
16Le Mars Comm School DistrictLe Mars
17Decorah Community School DistrictDecorah
18North Scott Comm School DistrictEldridge
19Solon Comm School DistrictSolon
20Ballard Comm School DistrictHuxley
21Moc-Floyd Valley Comm School DistrictOrange City
22Clinton Comm School DistrictClinton
23Adel Desoto Minburn Comm School DistrictAdel
24Allamakee Comm School DistrictWaukon
25Lewis Central Comm School DistrictCouncil Bluffs
26Harlan Comm School DistrictHarlan
27Sergeant Bluff-Luton Comm School DistrictSergeant Bluff
28Independence Comm School DistrictIndependence
29Maquoketa Valley Comm School DistrictDelhi
30Northeast Comm School DistrictGoose Lake
31Treynor Comm School DistrictTreynor
32Carroll Comm School DistrictCarroll
33Williamsburg Comm School DistrictWilliamsburg
34Center Point-Urbana Comm School DistrictCenter Point
35Boone Comm School DistrictBoone
36West Delaware County Comm School DistrictManchester
37North Linn Comm School DistrictTroy Mills
38Underwood Comm School DistrictUnderwood
39Knoxville Comm School DistrictKnoxville
40Union Comm School DistrictLa Porte City
41North Fayette Valley Comm School DistrictWest Union
42Humboldt Comm School DistrictDakota City
43Marshalltown Comm School DistrictMarshalltown
44Albia Comm School DistrictAlbia
45Bondurant-Farrar Comm School DistrictBondurant
46Ottumwa Comm School DistrictOttumwa
47South Central Calhoun Comm School DistrictRockwell City
48St Ansgar Comm School DistrictSt Ansgar
49Hinton Comm School DistrictHinton
50Carlisle Comm School DistrictCarlisle
51Clear Lake Comm School DistrictClear Lake
52Algona Comm School DistrictAlgona
53Benton Comm School DistrictVan Horne
54Nevada Comm School DistrictNevada
55East Marshall Comm School DistrictGilman
56Lisbon Comm School DistrictLisbon
57Turkey Valley Comm School DistrictJackson Junction
58Roland-Story Comm School DistrictStory City
59Marcus-Meriden-Cleghorn Comm School DistrictMarcus
60Webster City Comm School DistrictWebster City
61Muscatine Comm School DistrictMuscatine
62Vinton-Shellsburg Comm School DistrictVinton
63Mount Vernon Comm School DistrictMount Vernon
64Twin Rivers Comm School DistrictBode
65Osage Comm School DistrictOsage
66Pcm Comm School DistrictMonroe
67Spirit Lake Comm School DistrictSpirit Lake
68Mason City Comm School DistrictMason City
69Waverly-Shell Rock Comm School DistrictWaverly
70Dike-New Hartford Comm School DistrictDike
71Grinnell-Newburg Comm School DistrictGrinnell
72Sumner-Fredericksburg Comm School DistrictSumner
73Oskaloosa Comm School DistrictOskaloosa
74Tipton Comm School DistrictTipton
75Central Springs Comm School DistrictManly
76Lawton-Bronson Comm School DistrictLawton
77Shenandoah Comm School DistrictShenandoah
78Atlantic Comm School DistrictAtlantic
79Spencer Comm School DistrictSpencer
80North Winneshiek Comm School DistrictDecorah
81West Central Valley Comm School DistrictStuart
82Mount Ayr Comm School DistrictMount Ayr
83Eastern Allamakee Comm School DistrictLansing
84West Lyon Comm School DistrictInwood
85Audubon Comm School DistrictAudubon
86Central Dewitt School DistrictDe Witt
87Forest City Comm School DistrictForest City
88Newton Comm School DistrictNewton
89Howard-Winneshiek Comm School DistrictCresco
90Pocahontas Area Comm School DistrictPocahontas
91South Hamilton Comm School DistrictJewell
92Van Meter Comm School DistrictVan Meter
93Ogden Comm School DistrictOgden
94Prairie Valley Comm School DistrictGowrie
95North Union Comm School DistrictArmstrong
96Bellevue Comm School DistrictBellevue
97Clarion-Goldfield-Dows Comm School DistrictClarion
98Fort Madison Comm School DistrictFort Madison
99Logan-Magnolia Comm School DistrictLogan
100Garner-Hayfield-Ventura Comm School DistrictGarner

Methodology

The following variables contributed to the ranking: number of students (K-12), graduation rate, school funding per student, student to teacher ratio, percent of students scoring above proficient in standardized state Math test, percent of students scoring above proficient in standardized state Reading and Language test. Data from a total of 10,247 public school districts were used to compute a score for each school district. The following states were omitted due to lack of sufficient data: Hawaii, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Utah, and Virginia. Note that high schools in some states have their own independent districts.

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