5 Smartest States in America

BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- If you're looking to find America's smartest people, go west, young man -- or at least go Midwest.

An analysis of several key educational measures shows Minnesota and some other Midwest states beat the rest of America when it comes to academic excellence.

"There's a wide variety of educational achievement between states," Boston College education professor Ana Martinez-Aleman says. "Places like Minnesota have very strong, populist traditions about the importance of education."

We recently looked at four factors -- SAT math scores, percentage of citizens with high school diplomas, how many young people attend college and how many high schoolers watch too much TV -- to assess each state's academic-achievement level.

Our research uncovered huge differences between states.

For instance, 19.3% of residents in both Texas and California lack high school educations -- nearly triple Wyoming's 7.7% dropout rate.

Similarly, less than 17% of Utah high schoolers watch three hours of TV or more per night -- roughly a third of Mississippi's 44.9% rate.

Martinez-Aleman, who also serves as editor of the scholarly publication Educational Policy Journal, attributes many of the differences to how much money each state spends on public education.

"There's a cause-and-effect relationship between educational spending and educational achievement," she says.

The expert says states such as Minnesota have long prided themselves on funding public schools generously, while southern states that fared poorly in our analysis often have lower taxes and limited academic spending.

Martinez-Aleman adds that Mountain states -- which generally ranked highly in our analysis -- can spend fairly large amounts of money per student because they have sparse populations.

Here's a look at the five states that came out on top of our analysis, which used the most-recent data available from The College Board and Educational Policy Journal's sister company, CQ Press.

We ranked states based on an average of where they placed among all 50 states and the District of Columbia on the four metrics analyzed. (Nine states and D.C. lacked data on TV watching by high schoolers, so we rated them based on their average scores for the three other criteria studied.)

All Scholastic Aptitude Test scores are from this year, while the percentage of students taking the SAT is based on average figures calculated by The College Board for 2002, last year and this year.

Percentage figures for people in each state lacking high school or general-equivalency degrees are as of 2010 and refer to residents 25 or older, while college enrollment rates for each state's young people are as of 2008. Television-watching statistics are as of 2009.

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