• from The Columbus Dispatch - "Education Data Often Misused to Push Agendas"


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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 populations.
  • 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 picture.
  • 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 and agendas.


is Distinguished Research Professor at the University of Dayton and is President & Chief Executive Officer of SchoolMatch®, a Columbus based educational auditing, research, data firm.

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