Monday, October 10, 2005

Smartest and Dumbest States?

A friend sent this article to me, and after choking on my tea, I had to respond. See my comments at the end!

The smartest state in the union for the second consecutive year is Massachusetts.

The dumbest, for the third year in a row, is New Mexico.

These are the findings of the Education State Rankings, a survey by Morgan Quitno Press of hundreds of public school systems in all 50 states. States were graded on a variety of factors based on how they compare to the national average. These included such positive attributes as per-pupil expenditures, public high school graduation rates, average class size, student reading and math proficiency, and pupil-teacher ratios. States received negative points for high drop-out rates and physical violence.How does YOUR state rank?

#1 Massachusetts
New Jersey
New York

#11 Maine
New Hampshire
North Dakota

#20 Colorado
South Dakota
Rhode Island
North Carolina

#30 Michigan
South Carolina
Texas and West Virginia (tie)

#40 Tennessee
#50 New Mexico


What a marvelous piece of garbage!

"These are the findings of the Education State Rankings, a survey by Morgan Quitno Press of hundreds of public school systems in all 50 states."

Morgan Quitno, though based in Lawrence, Kansas (home of the University of Kansas), is the epitome of the "beltway bandit" firm: they specialize in putting together and publishing "Best of/Worst of" studies and lists for states and cities on all kinds of subjects: safest and most dangerous, most and least livable, etc. KTGF-TV of Great Falls has this about them: "Morgan Quitno Press is an independent private research and publishing company located in Lawrence, Kansas. Founded in 1989, the company specializes in reference books and monthly reports that compare states and cities in several different subject areas. The corporation is not a subsidiary of any other company nor is it subsidized by any outside interest group. Its books are found in reference libraries throughout the United States and around the world." No, they aren't subsidized by any "outside interest group" - they are subsidized by the thousands of government and school libraries and agencies that buy their books avidly, and ARE an "outside interest group."

The first thing we see about this "smartest/dumbest" state is that it is based on surveys of PUBLIC schools (that is, government-run, tax-funded schools) - not on the population as a whole, or even the whole student body of a state (and with some states having 11% or more K-12 students in home school or private schools, that can make a difference). But there is more.

"States were graded on a variety of factors based on how they compare to the national average."

At first, this doesn't seem untoward, but think - it is not compared to a true baseline, the way quality of gasoline is judged, or the way teachers (used to) grade tests - this is grading on the curve. It would be like doing a survey of countries in Africa on which allow the "most and least freedom" to their people, but using the average situation in Africa, rather than even the whole world, as the standard. But let's look at what the 50 states are being judged on-

"These included such positive attributes as per-pupil expenditures,"

Dozens of studies have shown that "per-pupil" spending has little to do with the quality of an education - much less with whether the products of that education (students) are smart or dumb.

"public high school graduation rates,"

In an era where high-school graduates cannot properly balance a checkbook nor read a newspaper, much less calculate the volume of a tank or understand an MSDS, this is a complete hoot as a "standard" - it is meaningless.

"average class size,"

Again, studies have demonstrated the worthlessness of this factor - and if class size were really important, then I have two questions: (1) why don't we go back to one-room schools where each teacher only has 10-12 students, and (2) why do enormous (but successful) universities put virtually all of their freshmen in core classes where the class size is in the hundreds?

"student reading and math proficiency,"

This is really the only thing listed that MIGHT have some relation to "smartness and dumbness" for states - except that the basis of these proficiency scores is based on a plethora of state and even local "standard tests" and evaluations all designed to demonstrate that the public schools reporting have as much state and federal money as they want, and that their teachers continue to draw a paycheck. So I don't rank this very high as far as telling what states are "smart" and "dumb."

"and pupil-teacher ratios."

This is completely bogus, as it is just a slightly different way of saying "class size."

"States received negative points for high drop-out rates"

Also bogus, as this is just another way of stating "graduation rates." Nor does it necessarily account for those people who get GEDs, nor possibly even for those whose parents have pulled them into home schooling or private schools.

"and physical violence."

Again, this MIGHT be a good indicator of school quality and conditions, but has little to do with judging smartness or dumbness: even SMART people can be prone to violence, and DUMB people are often peaceful (or cowed, which is a different thing entirely). But the sources of information on school violence are themselves highly suspect: a tremendous amount of in- and school-related violence NEVER gets reported: not just not reported to a teacher or administrator but not reported to cops or courts.

In short, this survey is absolutely worthless except for selling ads in papers and on television. But it MIGHT be useful, if not for determining the intelligence of the PEOPLE of a state, for determining the intelligence of the state agencies and public schools in those states: any organization which buys this report (either in the sense of purchasing the book or agreeing with its rankings) has just demonstrated, on an objective scale, and not a curve, that they are dumber than rocks.


Anonymous said...

You're an idiot.

Nathan said...

Interesting, Mr. A. I wonder if you could explain how you came to your conclusion?