Arizona ranked dumbest in U.S.
The Arizona Republic
Oct. 18, 2006

Comparison of states' education systems, per-pupil funding among criteria in survey

John Faherty

Arizona has the dubious distinction of being the dumbest state in the Union, according to an independent research and publishing company in Kansas.

The finding quickly made the rounds of morning talk shows and Internet postings, but a closer look at the methodology used for the survey suggests the rankings deserve more serious scrutiny.

Morgan Quitno Press, which compiles state- and city-ranking publications, used a variety of measurements to create their list, including money spent on students, standardized test scores, graduation rates, teacher salaries and teacher/student ratios. It is, in short, a comparison of the education systems in the 50 states and not a measure of a state's intelligence.

Having a bad reputation for schools and intelligence can harm a state's efforts to attract good companies and high-paying jobs.

Tom Horne, the state's superintendent of public instruction, strongly disagrees with the findings and said the only rankings that matter are how Arizona students perform on standardized tests.

"Morgan Quitno is the stupidest company in the nation," Horne said Tuesday.
"The proof of the pudding is in the eating. We look at test scores."

Horne pointed to the fact that Arizona students outperformed the national average on SAT scores as well as the standardized TerraNova tests.

TerraNova is a national test that compares Arizona students with their peers in reading and math.

"Arizona students perform above the national average on TerraNova, which is the principal measure by which we compare ourselves to other states," Horne said.

Arizona test scores are generally about average, but the state historically ranks at the bottom in terms of money spent per student.

Education Week's Quality Counts 2005 ranked Arizona 50th in per-pupil spending at $6,010 per student, well below the national average of $7,734.

Scott Morgan, founder of Morgan Quitno, said the amount of money spent per student is a legitimate way to measure schools, if for no other reason than it indicates a state's commitment to education.

"The money you spend does matter. But you also need to look at what you are doing with the money," Morgan said.

Although the merits of the survey are open for debate, there is no question that a poor education system, or even the reputation for having a poor education system, could be damaging for Arizona.

Barry Broome is president and chief executive officer of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council. It is his experience that a reputation for marginal schools does not hurt in the recruiting of businesses to set up shop in Arizona.

"Companies look at the cost of doing business first," Broome said. "That's what they want to know."

But the education system can become an issue when it comes time to get people to work at those companies.

"It affects recruiting people very much," Broome said. "Our schools do not have good performance metrics."

In Broome's experience, however, Arizona's reputation for having a wide array of school choices, public and private and charter, makes up for a shaky education reputation. That reputation will make people coming to Arizona more selective about where they move their family within the region.

Salt River Project has 4,300 employees, some of whom have been recruited by Meg Staggs, head of staffing for the utility company. Staggs, an Arizona native, said that how "smart" the state is has never come up in her negotiations with potential employees and that the only time SRP loses a recruit is because of money or the family chooses not to move.

A recruit with children will ask Staggs where the good schools are, but she said real estate agents are better equipped to answer that question.

The issue of schools always comes up for realty agents, especially those who work frequently with people moving from out of state.

"I have been working in relocation for eight years, and it does come up,"
Jenny Khan, relocation director for Realty Executives in Phoenix. "People will ask where the good schools are. If they have a family, it's the first