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What US State is the Smartest?

By O. Wallace
Updated May 17, 2024
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When determining something as potentially controversial as the smartest state in the United States, it is important to keep in mind that it all comes down to what factors are considered in the decision-making process. Morgan Quitno Press, which compiles and publishes state and city rankings every year, publishes their own smartest state rankings. This publication is currently the leading ranking of the states’ “intelligence.”

Morgan Quitno considers 21 separate factors, both positive and negative, when determining the smartest state. Positive factors contribute to the “smartness” of a state, while negative factors reduce the score. For the 2005-2006 list, Vermont was rated as the smartest state. Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maine, Minnesota, Virginia, Wisconsin, Montana and New York rounded out the top ten. For the most part, the same states were ranked among the top ten in the 2004-2005 rankings, although Massachusetts earned the designation of smartest state. The top ten states tend to be in the Northeast and upper Midwest on a consistent basis.

The factors considered in the Morgan Quitno rating include how much revenue for public elementary and secondary schools is generated for every 1,000 US dollars of one’s personal income, as well as expenditures for public school. Two other important factors are the percentage of high school graduates in the general population and the high school graduation rate. The high school drop out rate is also considered. Morgan Quitno takes into account elementary and secondary school students’ proficiency in reading, writing and math, as well as the average class size.

Other factors examined in selecting the smartest state include the average teacher’s salary, average elementary and secondary school attendance, average student to teacher ratios and the percentage of the population of school age children actually enrolled in school. Other important factors are the percentage of school administrators among school employees and the special education student to teacher ratio. There are new factors considered every year, which means that one year cannot always be directly compared to another.

In what seems to be an obsession with determining “the best,” the media not only publicizes the smartest state, but also assigns rankings to cities by comparing census data and other statistics. By comparing the number of college degrees, Seattle, Washington has been declared the smartest city, because 52.7% of its residents who are 25 years of age or older have earned bachelor degrees or higher. Seattle was also designated as the most literate city due to its newspaper circulation and number of libraries and bookstores. San Francisco, CA, Raleigh, NC, Washington D.C. and Austin, TX round out the top five smartest cities. Interestingly enough, none of their home states made it into the top five smartest states, leaving much to be disputed in the designation of the smartest state.

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Discussion Comments
By anon129865 — On Nov 25, 2010

The list is great. Awards should be given to those who have done better at anything. By giving participation awards mediocrity is viewed as success. I learned a very important thing form my high school football coach when he would say "If we are not improving every week we are falling behind those who are. What are we going to do to be number 1?". I am very proud that we were awarded what we earned. There is nothing arbitrary about competing to be the best.

By stolaf23 — On Nov 07, 2010

@elizabeth23, I agree. While it could be a nice encouragement for those who rank highly, it could cause problems for everyone else. I also imagine there is a huge correlation between the "smartest" states and the richest states, and the lower-ranking states and the poorest states. Hopefully this kind of data can at least be used to identify problem areas in different places and determind causes and possible solutions.

By elizabeth23 — On Nov 07, 2010

This smartest states list, like the health and obesity state lists, seems to be somewhat arbitrary. I also worry that these kinds of listings would only strengthen rivalries between neighboring states, rather than encouraging the nation as a whole to work together for better schools, wages, and other living conditions.

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