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School Rankings Are No Good, Unless You Finish High

September 16, 2013 - 6:00pm

There is a major pushback brewing against public school reform.

Not unanticipated. The Education Blob has been steaming about efforts to change the status quo, which is money, money, money.

In Utah, research just discovered the obvious: students in less-afluent areas have lower grades. The teacher union bosses responded with the astounding claim that this was proof the state wasn't spending enough on education!

If students don't learn, it's always because adult paychecks are too low. Ergo, paying adults more causes kids to learn more. (And storks nest on chimneys, therefore they bring babies.)

Since the mid-1960s, school spending has soared more than 250 percent, even after inflation, and yet until reform efforts started student scores were flat or declining, especially in comparison to other nations that spend less.

The reform effort has centered around standards and accountability, and Florida has been a leader, beginning with Gov. Jeb Bush in 1998. Grading schools is part of the process.

The efforts continue and Gov. Rick Scott noted, responding to a poorly-reasoned editorial in an Ocala newspaper recently, that Florida jumped from 11th to sixth in the nation for educational quality in 2013.

Anti-reformers insist that it is impossible to grade teachers or schools in other words, make any assessment that would indicate whether schools are doing what they are supposed to do.

It is sheer absurdity. One wonders whether the teachers' union bosses would dispute the National Council on Teacher Quality's ranking of Florida teachers as No. 1 two years in succession. But it is an education myth that is not confined to K-12 schools.

Recently, Washington Monthly published a ranking of community colleges. The media rank things all the time. Certainly, such comparisons should be taken with a grain of salt, as all involve assumptions.

In the case of the magazine's rankings, readers immediately jumped on the story. None disclosed their interest, but it seems doubtful that any of the complaints were from those affiliated with colleges that scored high in the ranking.

Interestingly, North Florida Community College was ranked second, and 10 Florida colleges were in the top 50.

Critics included the organization that produces the Community College Survey of Student Engagement, which was used along with U.S. Department of Education statistics to rank the schools.

CCSSE said Washington Monthly created the rankings in large part through misuse of data drawn from the CCSSE website ... There are so many things about this approach that are statistically wrong that it is impossible to overstate how spurious the results really are.

Translation: they didn't like it. CCSSE also was highly critical of a story accompanying the ranking, which in turn was critical of schools in the San Francisco Bay area.

This little flap probably is an early example of the pushback Florida, Texas and other states will see in the coming months as the Education Blob endeavors to disrupt reform efforts that have produced proven, demonstrable results to the benefit of children.

Lloyd Brown was in the newspaper business nearly 50 years, beginning as a copy boy and retiring as editorial page editor of the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville. After retirement he served as speech writer for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

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