Ariz. Chief Angry Over Ranking

By Jessica L. Tonn — October 30, 2006 1 min read

A recent ranking of state education systems by a Lawrence, Kan.-based research and publishing firm has Arizona state schools Superintendent Tom Horne questioning the intelligence of the company’s staff.

“Morgan Quitno’s a stupid company, and I would estimate they have no employee with an IQ over 90,” he wrote in an Oct. 19 e-mail.

Why is Mr. Horne so upset? The state chief, a Republican who is seeking re-election Nov. 7, says that the company unfairly ranks states by placing too much emphasis on state funding per pupil. Arizona has ranked last in the company’s “Smartest State” awards for the past two years.

The rankings are based on 21 indicators, including state education spending, class sizes, graduation rates, teacher salaries, and student test scores. The 2006 list was released Oct. 16.

A better measure of the quality of Arizona’s education system would be to look primarily at student test scores, Mr. Horne said. In a press release, he cited a recent study by the Washington-based American Legislative Exchange Council that ranks Arizona 22nd in the country for academic achievement, based on SAT, ACT, and National Assessment of Educational Progress scores.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Arizona ranks 50th in state funding per pupil at $6,010—$1,724 below the national average.

“Considering that Arizona ranks last in funding per pupil, the fact that Arizona is above average in test scores is a tribute to Arizona teachers and administrators, who do not deserve unfair criticism by incompetently performed studies,” Mr. Horne said.

However, Scott Morgan, the president of Morgan Quitno Press Inc., defended the findings, saying that only three of the 21 indicators were finance-related. “I don’t think any rational study would give Arizona a passing grade,” he said.

And Mr. Horne’s opponent in next week’s election agrees.

“Once again, the data shows how our children are being left behind under the current superintendent’s watch,” Jason Williams, a Democrat, said in a press release about the Morgan Quitno study.

Mr. Horne, who is 61 and took office in 2003, shot back, saying “that Jason Williams would jump on this bandwagon is an indication of his youthful bad judgment.”

Mr. Williams, a former teacher and executive director of Teach for America-Phoenix, is 30.

A version of this article appeared in the November 01, 2006 edition of Education Week