wasting bandwidth since 1999

Ranking Kids

Back in September I ranted about the college rankings from US News and a podcast episode that explained how they use some rather superficial criteria to assemble the annual list.

Beyond their high-profile “best of” lists for higher education, the former paper-based magazine also publishes one for high schools. It’s equally trivial.

And now the US News editors have announced they will be publishing similar rankings for elementary and middle schools.

How bad could it be?

Scoring was almost entirely rooted in students’ performance on mathematics and reading/language arts state assessments. Each state administers these assessments to determine whether learning in core subjects is achieved and to review how well schools are educating their students – including but not limited to children from low-income households and children from historically underserved ethnicities.

Yep, that bad.

But it’s not enough to just use the same test scores most states already publish, many months after the students being “assessed” have moved on. They will mix in a little statistical magic.

The U.S. News rankings team produced multivariate regressions that assessed student performance in the context of demographics and their states. We believe that is more useful than simply looking at test results to evaluate schools, because this process resembles to a certain extent how education administrators and researchers consider school performance.

Although it’s easy to laugh at this kind of click bait, too many people will take it seriously.

Local news media and news aggregators will report the rankings as definitive fact. Politicians and education “experts” will use them to reinforce their existing opinion of public schools. And schools will use the “news” to promote themselves.

All this despite the fact that the data being used covers a very narrow aspect of what makes a good school, and a very small part of what K-8 kids should be learning.

Which is on top of the growing body of evidence showing that the standardized tests given to most students have many racial, social, and economic biases.

Of course, the primary goal of US News in building all of these faux “best of” lists is not to help parents/students, or motivate improvement of schools, or even some kind of investigative journalism.

It’s simply a matter of building their “brand”, increasing web traffic, and drawing more ad revenue.


The photo is the stock image used in the US News post. Just a generic view of pandemic schooling.

1 Comment

  1. Doug Johnson

    I’ve been ragging about this for almost 20 years. See this editorial I wrote for my local paper in 2003:
    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1QnkayKrs1lAvWnzYzy7ISsnwCvOWP_j_YYD_pwqyO7s/edit?usp=sharing

    Keep up the good work,

    Doug

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