by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
October 27, 2006
WHY ARE THE DUMB STATES RED?
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- For the second year in a row, Vermont was ranked the smartest state in the union by the Kansas-based research group Morgan Quitno.
Rankings such as these are always in the eye of the beholder, but the Morgan Quitno study measured school spending, graduation rates, standardized test scores, dropout rates, student-teacher ratios and the percentage of students in public schools.
The study gives more weight to test scores than to school spending, so spending more on public schools doesn't necessarily count for more than actual performance by students.
Vermont has smaller class sizes and higher per-pupil expenditures than most states. Our students usually do well on standard tests and the overall quality of secondary education is good. That's why Vermont hasn't finished lower than third in the five years the Morgan Quitno study has been done.
Again, money doesn't always mean educational excellence. But it's no secret that states such as Vermont that are willing to back their support of public education with real money usually reap the benefits of such spending.
It might also explain political differences. The states in the top five - Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey and Maine - are "blue states" that supported the Democrats in the 2004 elections. Four of the bottom five states - Alaska, Mississippi, Nevada and Arizona - were "red states" that supported Republicans.
This is not to say you have to be stupid to vote for Republicans, but states that support Republicans don't support public education and the results of that lack of support are predictable.
Republicans love to demonize public education and play off people's resentments regarding the pay and benefits teachers receive. It's all part of the glorification of stupidity and stubbornness that is part and parcel of the modern Republican Party.
The irony is that while the Republican elite send their children to private schools and get legacy admissions to top colleges, the lumpen masses that regard voting Republican as a way of getting back at those godless, immoral liberals instead get stuck with lousy schools, a declining economy and a generally more brutish existence.
That's why, when you look at social pathologies, you see the Republican states taking the lead.
Which five states have the highest incarceration rates? According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Oklahoma and Alabama.
Which five states have the highest rates of suicide? According to the National Center for Health Statistics, Wyoming, Arkansas, Nevada, Montana and New Mexico.
Which five states have the highest divorce rates? According to the National Center for Health Statistics, Nevada, Arkansas, Wyoming, Idaho and West Virginia.
Which five states have the highest illegitimate birth rates? According to the National Center for Health Statistics, New Mexico, Louisiana, Mississippi, Delaware and Arizona.
Which five states have the highest grossing gambling markets? According to the United States Gaming Bulletin, Nevada, New Jersey, Mississippi, Indiana and Louisiana.
Which five states have the highest rate of deaths by firearms? According to the National Center for Health Statistics, Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Wyoming and Nevada.
Which five states have the highest rates of obesity? According to the Centers for Disease Control, Mississippi, Alabama, West Virginia, Tennessee and Louisiana.
With the exception of Delaware and New Jersey, the common thread is that all these states are "red" states that voted for George W. Bush for president in 2004.
There are some who believe Vermont is out of step with the rest of the nation. I say, you're damn right we are!
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more
than 25 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He
can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.