- from The Columbus Dispatch - "Education Data Often Misused to Push Agendas"
January 05, 2005
By William L. Bainbridge
The National Center for Educational Statistics recently released a guide for
schools called "Building a Culture of Quality Data."
The center, which is part of the Department of Education, is quite clear in
expressing the governmentís position: "The quality of information used to
develop an instructional plan, run a school, plan a budget or place a student in
a class depends upon the school data clerk, teacher, counselor, and/or school
secretary who enter data into a computer."
This federal manual offers recommendations to school staffs about best
practices for data entry ó getting things right at the source.
Unfortunately, many of our policy leaders, researchers and journalists donít
get it right at the source when analyzing the data. Instead, some
school data are used to create illusions that often promote delusions. However, the
consequences of creating such delusions for the general public about the nature
of student performance in schools and school operations are much more
far-reaching than those attributed to an entertaining holiday movie. Here are
some recent examples:
- Former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige and Broad Foundation founder
Eli Broad announced that the Houston Independent School District "is Americaís
top-performing school district and the winner of the inaugural Broad Prize for
Urban Education." This was done even though the district had one of the
highest dropout rates in the nation. Paige, who traveled the political path
from school board member to superintendent in Houston to the U.S. Department
of Education, apparently saw no conflict of interest in making the award to
the system that discards children like waste paper.
- Newsweek published a listing of "The 100 Best High Schools in America"
based solely on the number of students taking College Board-sanctioned
Advanced Placement programs and tests, regardless of how well students had
performed on the tests.
- "Counselors" in a major relocation company averaged the outcomes of SAT
(top score 1600) and ACT (top score 36) scholarship examinations . The data
are statistically incompatible and, therefore, the results make absolutely no
sense when averaged.
- The Washington-based Education Trust and many state-education agencies
indicated that schools with "similar students" had quite different test
scores. The student populations were not similar. In many cases, the schools
listed as low-performing had marked demographic disadvantages. The numbers of
families in poverty and with low parent-education levels were ignored.
- Newspapers and foundations praised the progress of so-called reconstituted
schools, many of which had specially selected student bodies and faculties
with little similarities to those of local communities and previous school
- The nonprofit Manhattan Institute used "working papers" in place of
statistical document ation and analysis. In its apparent zeal to support a
conservative agenda, the institute frequently reports results of extremely
small sets of schools with little that can be generalized to the larger
- The U.S. government reported various increases in federal spending in
terms of percentages rather than dollars. A 10 percent increase in the
Department of Health and Human Services, for example, would represent enough
money to double the Department of Educationís budget.
Before pointing their fingers at the clerks, teachers, counselors and
secretaries who enter school data into computers, those in positions of greater
influence, power and prestige should start examining their analysis, conclusions
is Distinguished Research Professor at the
University of Dayton and is President & Chief Executive Officer
of SchoolMatch®, a Columbus based educational auditing, research, data