I know that everyone is entitled their own opinion, and that all interpretations are valid to a certain extent... Still, I feel that your interpretation is overly optimistic.
Here are the relevant pages:
"Azuki's not calculating, she's just being a girl. She's naturally absorbed the idea that it's feminine to be graceful and well-mannered. And that girls should be serious, but not too smart. She was born with the ability to sense that being too smart isn't cute."
"She's thought since birth that getting married is what makes a girl happy. And until then, no even after she gets married, she wants to be graceful and cute. Because it's not calculated, it makes her 100 times smarter than Iwase, the girl with the best grades in our class."
[picture of Iwase with an annoyingly snobbish look on her face] "She's got the best grades of all the girls in our class, and the fact that she's proud of it repulsive. I think she's stupid."
Takagi is basically stating his belief that a smart girl is one who conforms to societal expectations of feminine behavior. He praises Azuki because she has unconsciously internalized the sexist beliefs of the society around her. He stresses multiple times that she is "not calculating" - she simply naturally conforms to a society that expects girls to be cute, humble, not to smart, and pursue careers that an androcentric society has deemed acceptable for females. The way he describes it, this sort of conformity is some sort of innate talent. A virtue, almost. They have a saying in ancient China, you know? "For women, a lack of knowledge is virtuous." This is exactly that kind of barbaric backward thinking.
Takagi praises Azuki precisely because she does not consciously think about or work towards being feminine. She just naturally "is" a girl. If anything, Azuki is the one who is blindly moving forward on her path simply because she feels, instinctively, that it's what a girl should do. "I can only assume that she naturally chose voice acting because that's a common dream for girls these days, and she's enjoying having such a dream. She doesn't feel pressure about the future like we do." "Because she's a girl?" (More sexism. Yes, she's a girl so she doesn't feel the pressure, even though being a seiyuu can be as much or even more stressful than being a mangaka, and later chapters in Bakuman show this explicitly.)
In the end, everything good about her is tied back to the fact that she's naturally gravitated towards the good old ideal of an male chauvinistic society of what the ideal girl should be like. Another implication about this is that basically her gender is the only major factor influencing her personality. Gender determinism, anyone?
In short, Takagi is praises her simply because she has a natural talent for conforming to gender stereotypes. To what society believes a girl should be like.
On the other hand, Iwase, who is "booksmart", as you put it, is called "stupid" because she is proud of her good grades, which is a completely reasonable thing to do. Because she does not conform to the ideal of "cute girls shouldn't be too smart", she is labeled as "stupid". And look how the creators choose to portray her. Snobbish, shallow, unreasonably obsessed with Takagi, an utter bitch. Her bitchiness is in direct proportion to her talent - in fact, her talent is why she's so bitchy - the creators obviously believe that extremely talented and intelligent girls cannot possibly be cute, and so they portray her in an extremely negative light.
This is not about just what is happening in story. This is about how the creators are deliberately choosing to set up the characterization and the story in a way that conveys the aesop which says: "Girls, be good girls and conform to what society wants you to be, and you'll be happy. If you're very intelligent, don't show that, because if you do, well, that automatically makes you an evil bitch who will never find happiness because you're such a bitch."
"Maybe I'm just a generous person, but I didn't really read it like that. Rather than rewarding one girl for acting dumb and feminine while punishing the other for entering the "intelligent" world of men, I saw it as praising one for knowing exactly what she wants and how to get it while dismissing the other for not thinking through the consequences of her actions (ie: being a social outcast). Maybe it's a bit conformist for trying to work within the system rather than change it, but as a pure measure of intelligence I would agree that someone who finds happiness in mediocrity is smarter than someone who blindly reaches forward without thinking about what they'll get out of it.
Basically it's "she's happy and she worked towards it as she knew how" versus "she's unhappy and doesn't even know why, even though she's booksmart". "
I think we both agree on the same basic points. It's just that you're at it from a more forgiving point of view. I am of the opinion that by looking at it that way, you are implicitly acknowledging Takagi's attitudes as reasonable and that Azuki should indeed be lauded and praised for being conformist, and that Iwase really is stupid for being so proud of her good grades as a female.
Is that what you believe? Your post implies that you believe that females who conform to society's expectations of them and remain mediocre but happy are more intelligent than someone like Iwase. You believe that girls, if they're smart, should act like they're stupid because if they do well on their tests like Iwase they'll end up being social outcasts (in that particular society). You don't really believe that, do you?
Another thing that goes against your argument is that I feel Iwase knows exactly what she wants, and getting good grades is her way of moving towards that goal. I don't think being a social outcast makes her unhappy. Social acceptance doesn't seem to be what she wants. All she wants is Takagi to acknowledge her intelligence, and acting dumb is counterproductive towards achieving that goal.
I think one assumption that you're making is that social acceptance and conformity to gender roles is essential to happiness. Iwase seems perfectly happy - in her own way - without those things.