Connecticut was named Smartest State in the nation by a private research and publishing group in a report released last week.
States were ranked against the national average on per pupil expenditures, high school graduation rates, average class size, student reading and math proficiency, student-teacher ratios and teacher salaries.
Rounding out the top five after Connecticut were Vermont, Montana, New Jersey and Maine.
Connecticut Governor John Rowland wasted no time publicizing his state's top designation in a press release.
"This award confirms what we already know to be true," said Governor Rowland. "Our early reading and summer reading programs, our emphasis on writing skills, and our focus on building reading and math skills are approaches that are working in Connecticut."
Connecticut has good reason to brag when it comes to quality of education, one expert said. Kathleen Lyons, a spokesperson for the National Education Association (NEA) said that Connecticut has some of the strictest requirements for teachers, as well as the highest salaries.
According to NEA statistics, Connecticut ranked second in the country on average salary for public school teachers at $52,693 for 2000-01, and third on per pupil expenditures at $10,258 per student.
"I'm not at all surprised," said Lyons. "Connecticut has been a leader for over a decade in raising teacher quality and student test scores."
Bringing up the rear with New Mexico were Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, and Nevada.
Officials in New Mexico's Department of Education (DOE) have questioned the validity of the Smartest State ranking and deny that New Mexico has the lowest quality of education in the country. They point out that their college-bound students scored above the national average on the SAT last spring, and the NEA ranked New Mexico 37th in the nation on per pupil spending for 2000-01 at $6,278 per student.
New Mexico ranked 46th in average school teacher salary at $33,785, according to NEA statistics, ahead of 48th place Montana, who scored in the top five on the "Smartest State" survey.
"This ranking is simply not reflective of the work that is occurring in schools and communities every day (in New Mexico)," said State Superintendent of schools Michael J. Davis in a prepared statement. "We would like to see their rankings for each state in each of the indicators used and how they weighted the importance of the data."
Ruth Williams, spokesperson for New Mexico's DOE, said that their state does not rank dead last according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), and ranked third in a study by Education Week for equity of public school financing.
"Every other organization that does a credible ranking of education calls us up to verify their data," said Williams. "We've never heard from Morgan Quitno on any level."
Scott Morgan, President and CEO of Morgan Quitno Press, said he doesn't check with states on statistics because most of their data is compiled from organizations like the NEA and NCES, not from state governments. He defended the accuracy of the data, but said the state rankings are subjective as far as which factors they choose to judge states by.
"I don't think this is science," Morgan said. "But by any standard of ranking on education, New Mexico has very major issues in front of it."
Morgan Quitno Press is a privately owned research and publishing company founded in Lawrence, Kansas in 1989. Morgan said his company has no political agenda and is not funded or influenced by any special interest groups.
Morgan Quitno Press compiles four other annual state and city rankings- Safest and Most Dangerous City and Metro Area, Safest and Most Dangerous States, Most Livable State, and Healthiest State.
State and city rankings are compiled to highlight Morgan Quitno's annual reference books, Morgan said, which are sold primarily to reference libraries and research organizations.