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The rankings of O Fair New Mexico


I’ve always viewed polls and rankings with a bit of skepticism. You have to consider who’s setting up the polls, who’s paying for it, how the questions were asked, what’s the criteria for the rankings, and on and on.

However, we residents of the Land of Enchantment are used to being on the low end of the rankings regardless of how they’re figured.

If it’s a list of something positive, such as child well-being, you can bet we’re at the bottom of it.

If it’s a list of something negative, such as drunk driving deaths per capita, you can bet we’re at the top of it.

Lately, though, I’ve been noticing New Mexico slipping through the cracks and doing better than expected.

Now, don’t go betting your house on a WalletHub study, but one that came out Tuesday drew me in. The topic was 2023’s States with the Best & Worst Early Education System.

I gritted my teeth, braced myself and dove in. In the initial narrative explaining the study, they listed the 10 states with the best, and the 10 states with the worst. I quickly scanned the 10 best, never expecting to see New Mexico, but always hopeful. Nope, not there.

I moved to the 10 worst, bracing more firmly. Nope, not there either.

OK. That means one of two things: one, somehow we were left off the survey or, two, we ranked between 20 and 40. Ranking between 20 and 40, for New Mexico is a small victory in and of itself.

Lo and behold, there sat New Mexico at lucky No. 13. Meaning the 13th best. Arkansas ranked No. 1, with a score of 76.1. New Mexico was No. 13, with a score of 60.93. We clearly bested No. 14, my home state of Oklahoma, which came in at 56.81.

WalletHub compared the states across 12 key metrics, including access to early education (only 11 states offer universal pre-K programs; New Mexico was counted as one likely to be there soon); share of 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled; pre-K quality benchmarks met; requirement of school safety plans and audits; change in state spending per child enrolled in preschool year over year; total state Head Start program spending; monthly child care co-payment fees as share of family income.

Bringing me back down to earth a bit was WalletHub’s rankings of 2023’s States with the Best & Worst School Systems. Frustratingly, New Mexico didn’t even make the top 50. Thanks to the pesky inclusion of the District of Columbia, New Mexico ranked dead last at 51.

In WalletHub’s list of Most and Least Educated States, we fared a little better, ranking No. 42 (Thank you, Los Alamos, which always helps us skew upward in that category).

Treading back into more positive territory, in March 2023 rankings, New Mexico ranked No. 2 behind Georgia in pecan production, a category in which we ranked No. 1 in 2020, and regularly rank in the top three.

In onions, we have recently been in the top five states and, of course, we are the No. 1 chile pepper growing state.

New Mexicans recently did well in another national category – Senior Olympics.

Of the 50 states, plus a few Canadian provinces, New Mexico finished No. 15 in the medal count. Al Berryman, an 80-year-old Las Crucen who finished second in his age bracket in both the 5K and 10K, said he was asked by other competitors how the New Mexicans were doing so well. Al told them it’s because we live healthy, and can train outdoors most of the year. I asked Al, “Isn’t it really the green chile?”

And here’s a category we’re not used to being considered at all, let alone considered favorably: college football.

Most of us are familiar with New Mexico State University’s long bowl game drought. We went 57 years without even appearing in a bowl game when we won the Arizona Bowl in 2017. And we won another bowl game last year.

And heading into 2023, with our second year under coach Jerry Kill, and joining Conference-USA, the Aggies have a pre-season ranking of No. 5!

OK, that’s NOT No. 5 in the country.

It’s No. 5 in Conference-USA.

And there are only nine football teams in the conference. But still, in the old days we would have been ranked No. 9. And to make that No. 5 ranking a bit sweeter, guess who was ranked No. 6? Our longtime rival and new conference foe, UTEP.