Maine can learn a lot from North Dakota

It has recently come to my attention that Maine, my favorite state, is near the bottom of all states in the US in terms of average SAT scores. Based on the 2010 scores, some have even taken to calling Maine “The Dumbest State.”

Maine is no longer at the very bottom of the list, but it is not quite time to remove the dunce cap just yet. On the 2013 SAT results, Maine was ranked 3rd from last so we can assume that Maine is now the 3rd dumbest state. Delaware is now dumbest based on the 2013 SAT scores. North Dakota is near the top (2nd immediately after Illinois).  Just like Asian [sic] has a lot to learn from the Philippines about English education, Maine, Delaware and other US states have a lot to learn from North Dakota. So, what is the secret to North Dakota’s success?

When people think about North Dakota they might tend to think of a rural and sparsely populated state which produces a great deal of agricultural products. According to statistics, they’d surely be right. Despite the recent oil boom there farming is still the main industry. Something else that might not be overly surprising is North Dakota being the least visited state in the union. I can’t help but think that Maine’s attempts to paint itself as “Vacationland” and to draw in tourists is hurting students. Perhaps Maine’s students are distracted by the tales of all those from away and they cannot concentrate on their studies. I am not suggesting that Maine destroy its natural beauty, but rather just suggesting that it not focus so much on increasing tourism, which might distract students.


Pemaquid Pt. Lighthouse– A background cause of Maine’s academic troubles?

North Dakota is also a very religious state. In addition to having more churches per capita than other states, the Peace Garden State also has a higher percentage of church goers than any other state. This might mean that these god fearing folks put in the time to study and learn self discipline from church. Maybe their study of the Bible spills over into their study of other subjects. Perhaps Maine needs to stop importing so many godless liberals from other states and start following North Dakota’s lead.

Another example of the superlative nature of North Dakota can be seen in the fact the world’s largest hamburger was eaten there. The burger weighed 3,591 pounds and fed more than 8,000 people. This shows the coordination and collaboration required to train students for the highly competitive work environment of the 21st century. Kudos to the Roughrider state. Roger Maris would surely be proud. Maybe Maine could follow suit and could organize the world’s largest lobster sandwich or something like that. This might show Maine is committed to nurturing the talents of its youth.


Roger Maris in 1961

Above, I have tried to point out three of the keys to North Dakota’s success in the academic arena. There are likely other possibilities and trying to isolate these is something that might warrant future research. I hope I have provided states like Maine that are lagging behind with some tangible ideas that might help alleviate their academic woes. Best of luck to Maine and all the other states which should be trying to emulate North Dakota.

Extras and notes: 

  •  I am equally as troubled that South Korea, the nation where I reside, is similar in average TOEFL scores to North Korea.
  • I mean no offense to any of the states or countries listed here
    (or to the people involved in education in these places either).
  • Please note I knew next to nothing about North Dakota before some googling for this post. I still don’t know much at all.
  • The random North Dakota facts were from here.
  • I realize this is utter bullshit, thanks.
  • If you are (somehow) not convinced by my reasons for North Dakota’s dominance above and you’d like to see some thoughts on “Why the Midwest rules on the SAT” you can click here for a piece in the New York Times from 2009.  You might also note that the SAT is mandatory for Maine’s high school juniors.
  • I linked to it above but this article (“What Asian [sic] Can Learn From Philippines about English Education”) is crap. I was ready to ignore it because there is plenty of crap out there in this world.
    The part that finally motivated me to write this post was about how it seemed lamentable that Korea scrapped its Japanese language learning in 1945 as though there were no other possible reasons than folly for this decision.
  • I don’t wish to gloss over the real education issues that might be facing the great state of Maine or other states.
  • I am very pleased with the lack of Fargo, or “Fargo Rock City” references here.
    Good for me.
  • I am also happy with myself for making a late decision not to try to equate North Dakota’s status of being ranked as the worst state for women to its high test scores.
  • This image has been flowing around the internets. It is most excellent.
    (It might be from here originally)


    Organic Foods Cause Autism?


  1. kevchanwow

    Hey Mike,

    I know exactly how you feel about the whole Main/North Dakota thing. I once got in a huge fight with my brother about whether Wayne Gretzky was a better hockey player than Isiah Thomas was a basketball player. Which is a very silly fight to have. I should have realised that Wayne Gretzky could have learned a lot from the way Isiah Thomas played hockey (and vice versa).

    On the other hand, the fact that the article you mention is crap doesn’t reduce the need for educators (and everyone else really) from different countries to discuss how English, or any other subject for that matter, is being taught. So on a more positive note, I thought I would share one cool thing about how they teach English in Japan. Every junior high school teacher in Japan has 4 colours of chalk and uses these colours to basically diagram every English sentence they write on a board. This is a pretty cool technique for raising students language awareness.

    Anyway, long live Gretzky and Thomas.


    • mikecorea

      Gosh Kevin, you managed to do what seemed impossible, taking this ranty snarkfest and making it productive. Good for you. I like your Gretsky/Thomas comparison in many ways. (But I will say that one of them was called The Great One for a reason).

      Let’s be clear, there were many things that bugged me about the article. I think that one of them was that (it seems as though the author was saying) teaching plays such a little role in the development of English. Bill Russell. Bobby Orr. If that is the case then it is simply a matter of govt policies and radio shows and “for rent” signs then who needs teachers. Before I get all ranty with it again, I think I can thank you again for sharing something cool about teaching in Japan. I think it is all too easy to talk badly about the English education in Korea/Japan/China wherever but I also think there are lots of people doing great stuff that we need to keep in mind too.

      Sometimes when I was working on teacher training courses with Korean teachers it was interesting to remind them that they are great users of English and great role models for their students and that they often learned English through what might be called the Grammar Translation method. Michael Jordan. Gordie Howe. So yeah I think it can be too easy to talk about how great things are in other places without considering a whole bunch of factors.

      Thanks again for the level headed comments, which were just what I needed. 🙂

    • Shona Carter

      Interesting post.

      I also have been following the SAT trends across the US, and I came to the conclusion that North Dakota’s average SAT scores are higher because students in that state typically take the ACT and only those who are confident that they’ll perform well on the SAT take the SAT.

      • mikecorea

        Thanks for the comments. I think you are exactly right! The chart shows that only 5% of the students in North Dakota take the SAT. In Maine it is 95%. To compare these states in terms of intelligence based on this is just silly. I think the same applies when comparing countries based on how many people take the TOEFL test. In South Korea a large % of people take the test so the average can be misleading. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  2. adamfromteachthemenglish

    ‘I am equally as troubled that South Korea, the nation where I reside, is similar in average TOEFL scores to North Korea.’

    This also shocks me. I would have assumed that the South Korean language is much more similar to English than North Korean. How can this be correct?

    • mikecorea

      Hello Adam,
      Thanks for reading and commenting. I think my wording might have been confusing there.

      I was trying to say that I am not at all troubled about South Korea and North Korea having similar TOEFL averages. I believe it is true but I don’t think it means anything. This is because (I think) like Maine a lot of people take the TOEFL but in North Korea only the elites do. I would also argue that while of course English is more commonly used in the Philippines comparing TOEFL scores between the country doesn’t make much sense and doesn’t tell us a thing. So, I think the premise of the article I linked to was shaky at best.

      As for comparisons South Korea and North Korea in terms of language, it is the same language with a 60 year gap. So South Koreans would have a lot more English loan words and things like this but it is the same language.

      I hope I have cleared things up here a bit and relieved your shock.


      (I was worried that you might have been kidding because my post was so full of crap but I just answered as though you were serious)

  3. annloseva

    I did enjoy this post very much and am probably going to find a way to use some information from it in my classes next term, and I so don’t regret returning to it again some 10 hours later. Because I read the comments and I really liked something from Kevin’s comment and your reply to it.
    “I thought I would share one cool thing about how they teach English in Japan” aaand
    “I think it is all too easy to talk badly about the English education … wherever but I also think there are lots of people doing great stuff that we need to keep in mind too.”

    Which all makes me think that maybe it could be interesting and fun (and also about context) to share “one cool thing about how they teach English in …”.
    I’ll give it a deeper thought and write something about Russia. There must be some one cool thing)

    • mikecorea

      Hello Ann,
      Thanks very much for the comments. I am already looking forward to reading something from you detailing one cool thing about how English is taught in Russia! What a great idea really. It got me thinking about this idea of “bright spots” were we can learn from what is working for others. This link might be a bit businessy but you can see what I mean:
      I always thought there is a lot to this idea for English teachers and something that could be helpful.
      This video is also nice:

      I am very happy you enjoyed this post (more than once!) and I thank you very much for reading and commenting. As for using this with your class, I’d be curious to see the impact. I’d hope they’d pick apart my terrible logic. 😉

  4. Sophia

    It was great to read such an insightful and well-researched blog post. The ‘article’ which inspired it similarly left me somewhat in awe of the depth of cross-cultural and historical awareness at work. The phrase “apples and oranges” and the slightly less well-known “Kachru’s circles” did spring to mind. Were I to comment (as I am glad you did) this would be about all I could add. Thank you for your input.

    • mikecorea

      Thanks for commenting, Sophia. I’m very pleased that my insights and research are clear here. I only hope that Maine and other states (shame on you Delaware!) will follow my advice here

      I am trying to avoid thinking about the original article because my doctor said it is not good for me. I think the main idea was that Japan (and Korea and China) should be different countries with a different history, culture, and language makeup (and policies regarding signs and news apparently) if they want to be as good at English as The Philippines. Yes, perhaps it is time I stop examining it and just leave it be.

      I thank you again for the comments which I (truly) appreciated for the points as well as the phrasing and for the other thoughts that came to mind as I read your comments.

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