May 10, 2011

Ranking Schools: A Matter of Data Shaping

Marc Comtois

GoLocalProv released their 2nd annual school ranking list and, setting aside the specific rankings, the fact that fairly well-off suburban communities rated at the top of the list and urban schools at the bottom is really no surprise. However, the way that GoLocal formulated their rankings by weighting expenditure/pupil and teacher/student ratio more (15% each) as compared to academic scores (10% each) is a debatable approach.

Spending more money (#1 East Greenwich, despite the stereotype, is #33 on the expenditure list) and having more teachers per student (Classical, at #10, has a second-to-worst "high" ratio of 15:1) isn't necessarily representative of kids getting a good education. (For more on this, see this by Fred Hess). Perhaps the "inputs" of expenditure/pupil and teacher/student ratio are more important in determining school quality than the test result/graduation rate "outputs." (To say nothing of that other immeasurable, parental involvement). But I don't think they are 50% more important as they were weighted by GoLocal.

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"the way that GoLocal formulated their rankings by weighting expenditure/pupil and teacher/student ratio more (15% each) as compared to academic scores (10% each) is a debatable approach."

Absolutely. So if you are a school that takes on special needs children from surrounding communities, you need to pay more for those children, so that increases the expenditure per pupil AND it will also lower the student to teacher ratio.

Plus, if a town has it in their contracts that they cannot lay off a teacher simply because they don't have a classroom full for them, does that make for a better education, when that teacher is supervising study hall or doing other clerical work?

I saw that GLP says they got their methodology from Babson, but maybe a little more refining could be necessary.

Maybe a fun little project for an AR blogger in their oh so copious free time?

Posted by: Patrick at May 10, 2011 2:18 PM

How about a ratio of test scores/per pupil expenditure, to get a sense of the efficiency of spending?

Of course, I contend that there is no cause/effect relation between the money spent and the educational results. I further contend that in the present system dominated by politically slanted "Outcome-Based Education" it is a miracle that some our kids are learning anything useful at all.

Posted by: BobN at May 10, 2011 3:06 PM

Bob, that isn't going to help, as schools that teach true special needs students will have very high per pupil costs and those students don't take standardized tests.

Posted by: Patrick at May 10, 2011 4:47 PM

Well if the data are there, I'm sure someone connected with the study would have time to weight the numbers according to the proportion of special need students.

Of course, if we had free enterprise and specialization in schools, we would find the special needs specialists would do much better by their clients than the one-size-fits-all schools can do. Every student would be better off then under today's system.

Posted by: BobN at May 10, 2011 6:31 PM

WOW! I guess charter schools aren't really all that great are they?

Posted by: glockster at May 10, 2011 8:43 PM

Ranking schools is a mistake in the first place and is sure to lead to lots of bad decisions as a result. Again I could quote the process improvement experts on this, but you folks don't care so why bother?

Posted by: Russ at May 11, 2011 2:20 PM

Just because we won't accept your improper use of quotes that do not support your vague point doesn't mean we don't care.

Show us a real school system that actually succeeds using the methods you advocate, and explain how it does so, and I would give it a fair look. But all you have do so far is quote failed, high-sounding but empty theory and copy/paste pithy but out-of-context or otherwise misleading (a polite term for dishonest) quotes.

At least the people you quote did their own wordsmithing, an action that appears to be beyond your capabilities.

Posted by: BobN at May 11, 2011 4:45 PM

Marc makes a great point in this post. I think there are a million ways to rank the schools and none are going to be completely accurate.

The scariest thing is that no matter how you rank them, the schools along the urban corridor (Classical being the exception) are doing so poorly. We don't need rankings to prove this, although maybe it will help kick off the kind of conversation that needs to happen.


Posted by: Dan McGowan at May 11, 2011 8:36 PM
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