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Thursday, February 09, 2017

Education statistics: Figures lie and politicians figure | Asia Times

Photo: Reuven Brenner

"Education is on every country’s agenda as being a key to prosperity.  But the unprecedented need of Vice-President, Mike Pence’s vote to get the 51 necessary for Betsy DeVos to become the Secretary of Education, raises the question: What is going on with education in the US that provokes such sharp division by party lines? How can it be that there is such sharp division about what kind of education would be in the children’s best interests — the future of any country?" according to Dr. Reuven Brenner. He was appointed to the McGill Faculty of Management REPAP Chair in Economics in 1991.

Back when I was growing up under communism, I could easily understand the sharp difference in opinions between my parents’ and my friends’ on one side, and the communist party on the other. The party wanted desperately to indoctrinate, whereas our parents did their best — at home, behind closed double-windows – to counterbalance the official brainwashing. But how can it be that Republicans and Democrats are so sharply divided about what is the purpose of schools, and how to solve the many problems kids and their parents have been facing for decades?
Superficial statistics notwithstanding, the facts concerning education in schools in the US show no improvement, no matter how many more billions of dollars have been thrown at the education sector. 

Former President Barack Obama’s administration increased spending for the lowest performing schools significantly. The administration also gave grants to states so as to induce them to adopt “Common Core” that set out what students should know in reading and math. These additions came after the U.S. already having been ranked among the highest spenders on education (US$11,700 per full-time equivalent student on elementary and secondary education according to a recent Education Department report, citing 2012 OECD data, about 31% above the average of the OECD countries).   Yet recent Nation’s Report Card showed no improvement in either math or reading.

True, the US’s graduation rate increased to a record 83% in 2014-15. It is this number that brings us to the issue of how easy it is to lie with statistics when politicians and bureaucracies are in charge of producing them. Since education is so crucial for every developing country in Asia, Latin America, Africa, it is useful to take a closer look at how the various government bureaucracies and unions have managed to massage the numbers to cover bad performance with rosy statistical veils. People learn from mistakes — less so from successes. And societies around the world can learn important lessons from the US experience — and they will learn more as Mrs. DeVos carries out the policies she had been long advocating, giving parents more choices in which schools to send their kids.

At the moment, to see why the 83% number is unreliable in terms of evaluating how much the graduating kids actually know, start with the fact that the government decided to evaluate schools — and gave them money — based on graduation rates. A researcher at University of California, Santa Barbara, though noted that “One of the criticisms I have of the graduation rate as an accountability measure, is it encourages schools and districts to discharge high-risk kids” obviously raising their graduation rates.

Where do the dumped kids go? Where do they show up in the statistics?  The answers vary. In Chicago, one of the biggest school districts in the country, investigations have found that the district is misclassifying students who enroll the above kids in these “dropout dumps” as some call it as “out-of-district transfers.” Briefly: the kids disappear from any statistics. If the transferred kid though manages to graduate — the school gets credit.

Source: Asia Times