In Essex County as in much of the nation, the available data about education paints a picture of stark disparities – concentrated groups and communities with low test scores, graduation rates, and low education levels among adults, against state and regional of statistics of high-achieving students, schools and adults.

Educational success hinges upon myriad factors, but important ones include prekindergarten participation, school attendance and the adequacy of school funding. Prekindergarten helps prepare children both socially and academically for school, and can be especially important for low-income children who tend to be exposed to a less rich vocabulary and have access to fewer resources than their peers. In Essex County in 2017, 44% of 4-year-olds were enrolled in public or private prekindergarten programs, up from 26% in 2002.

School attendance is increasingly measured by the share of students who miss 10% or more of the school year and are deemed “chronically absent.” In 2017, 15% of students were chronically absent in Essex County, the same as the state rate and little changed since 2009. But some local districts had rates near or above 20%, including Haverhill, Lawrence, Methuen, Rockport and Salem.

School spending in Essex County across public school districts was $15,200 per student in 2016, less than the statewide level of $15,900 and the level in Middlesex, MA of $16,700. Spending in Essex County has decreased 10% since 2008, after adjusting for inflation. The highest spending districts in Essex County were some of the vocational schools, with per-student spending levels at or above $20,000.

Enrollment in higher levels of schooling favors females, with women making up 58% of undergraduate college students and 63% of students in graduate and professional schools in Essex County. These disparities are similar to the state and national levels.

Measures of academic achievement show the majority of students in Essex County are considered proficient in key subjects, but many are not. Disparities in academic achievement remain significant, though some groups have made considerable progress over the last decade.

Third grade is an important milestone, particularly in the development of students’ literacy skills. Through third grade, many students are learning to read; from third grade on, they need to be able to read to learn. In Essex County in 2018, 50% of 3rd graders were considered proficient on the state’s English Language Arts exams, up 5 points from the previous year.

Proficiency was lower among economically disadvantaged students (34%), Hispanic students (35%) and African American students (42%) compared with those who were not disadvantaged (61%) and white and Asian students (58% and 65%, respectively).

Similarly, 8th grade is an important benchmark for the development of math skills, as students are studying or will soon move into study of algebra and other high school-level math courses. In 2018, 49% of Essex County 8th graders were considered proficient on the state’s math exam. But on this exam as well, rates were lower among some groups: 32% among economically disadvantaged students and 34% among Hispanic and African American students.

Massachusetts requires student to pass 10th grade level state tests in math and English in order to graduate. Most students in Essex County are passing these tests. In 2018, 88% of 10th graders passed the state’s language arts exam and 75% passed the math exam – higher proportions than 10 years ago. Disparities were less pronounced on the English exam, with 78% of economically disadvantaged students, 76% of Hispanic students and 86% of African American students passing in 2018. In addition, passing rates rose 41 percentage points for African American students and 40 points for Hispanic students from 2007 rates.

High school graduation rates in Essex County have been rising, with 87% of the 2013 cohort graduating in 2017, up 10 percentage points from 2006 and similar to the state graduation rate. Thirteen districts in the county had graduation rates of 95% or higher. The lowest graduation rates were in the high-poverty districts of Lawrence (72%) and Lynn (74%). Lawrence, however, had the largest gain since 2006, with a 31-point increase.

Students from low-income backgrounds graduated at a somewhat lower rate, 78% in 2017, though that was up from 61% in 2006. While 94% of Asian students and 93% of white students in the 2013 cohort graduated in 2017, rates were somewhat lower among African American and Hispanic students (84% and 76%). These disparities were comparable to rates at the state level among the same groups.

Essex County is a highly educated county in terms of the adult population, with 39% of adults in 2013-17 having at least a bachelor’s degree, up from 31% in 2000. That is above the national rate (31%) but below Massachusetts’ rate of 42% and below the rates in comparison counties: 54% in Middlesex, MA, 48% in Westchester, NY, and 44% in Lake, IL.

Some parts of Essex County and some groups within Essex County were significantly less well educated. In the cities of Lawrence and Lynn, just 11% and 20%, respectively, of adults had at least a bachelor’s. And throughout the county, only 12% of Hispanic residents had a bachelor’s or higher degree.

Bachelor's Degree or Higher by Race/Ethnicity Not Applicable
Early Prenatal Care by Mother's Race/Ethnicity Not Applicable
Preterm Births Increasing
Infant Mortality Rate Maintaining
Children with Elevated Blood Lead Levels Decreasing
Children Living in Poverty Increasing
Children Living in Poverty by Race/Ethnicity Not Applicable
Child Abuse and Neglect Increasing
Disengaged Youth Decreasing
Live Births to Teen Mothers Decreasing
Youth Arrests Decreasing
Arts, Entertainment and Recreation Establishments Maintaining
Arts, Entertainment and Recreation Employment Maintaining
Tourism Spending Increasing
Voter Participation Rate Increasing
Charitable Contributions Maintaining
Protected Land Not Applicable
Days with Good Air Quality Increasing
Beach Contamination Decreasing
Daily Water Use per Resident Decreasing
Crimes Against People Increasing
Crimes Against Property Increasing
Drug-Related Arrests Maintaining
Reports of Domestic Violence Increasing
Incarceration Rates Decreasing
Recidivism Decreasing
Households Without Vehicles Maintaining
Means of Transportation to Work Not Applicable
Traffic Injuries and Fatalities Maintaining
Households With Internet Access Increasing
Change in Total Population Increasing
Change in Population by Age/Gender Not Applicable
People 65 or Older Living Alone Decreasing
People with Disabilities Increasing
Households by Type Not Applicable
Single-Parent Families by Gender Not Applicable
Single-Parent Families by Race/Ethnicity Not Applicable
Change in Population by Race/Ethnicity Not Applicable
Foreign-Born Population Increasing
Language Diversity Increasing
Change in Total Jobs Increasing
Change in Jobs by Sector Not Applicable
Change in Average Salary Increasing
Change in Average Salary by Sector Not Applicable
Average Salary by Sector Not Applicable
Median Earnings by Occupation by Gender Not Applicable
People Entering/Leaving County for Work Not Applicable
Employer Size Not Applicable
Self-Employment Revenue Decreasing
Unemployment Rate Increasing
Unemployment Rate by Race/Ethnicity Not Applicable
Prekindergarten Participation Not Applicable
Female Enrollment in School Not Applicable
Chronically Absent Students Increasing
Per-Student Spending Increasing
Bullying Maintaining
Student Performance on Grade 3 Reading Not Applicable
Student Performance on Grade 8 Math by Student Group Not Applicable
Student Performance on Grade 10 English Language Arts Not Applicable
Student Performance on Grade 10 Math Not Applicable
High School Cohort Graduation Rate Increasing
High School Cohort Graduation Rate by Student Group Not Applicable
Education Levels of Adults Not Applicable
Income in Relation to Poverty Level Not Applicable
People Living in Poverty by Race/Ethnicity Not Applicable
Median Household Income Decreasing
Median Household Income by Race/Ethnicity Not Applicable
Median Household Income by Household Type Not Applicable
Living Wage Rate by Household Type Not Applicable
Households Receiving Temporary Assistance Maintaining
Households Receiving Federal Food Assistance Increasing
Participation in Food Assistance by Race/Ethnicity Not Applicable
Earned Income Tax Credit Participation Maintaining
Economically Disadvantaged Students Increasing
Median Home Value Increasing
Housing Affordability for Homeowners Increasing
Housing Affordability for Renters Increasing
Homeownership Rates Maintaining
Homeownership Rates by Race/Ethnicity Not Applicable
Homeless Persons Increasing
People Without Health Insurance Decreasing
Medical Care Expenses Increasing
Prevalence of Children with Asthma Maintaining
Prevalence of Overweight Children Decreasing
Prevalence of Overweight Adults Not Applicable
Diabetes Incidence Decreasing
Chronic Disease Among Older Adults Increasing
Cancer Incidence Decreasing
Cancer Mortality Rate Decreasing
Heart Disease Mortality Rate Decreasing
Mortality Rate Decreasing
People who Smoke Not Applicable
Use of Illegal Drugs Not Applicable
Youth Use of Illegal Drugs Not Applicable
Substance Abuse Treatment Admissions Not Applicable
Drug Overdose Mortality Rate Increasing
Prevalence of Mental Illness Maintaining
Suicide Rate Maintaining