Rank Ranking — The Pangloss Index

Get ready for “news” reports and blog posts (and here) from those eager to find fault with public education harping on the latest “report” from the Education Sector (more on the Education Sector on AMPS, here). In the recently released The Pangloss Index: How States Game the No Child Left Behind Act Wisonsin is ranked at #1 (along with Iowa) as the state that is most guilty of “gaming NCLB’s accountability system.” Don’t believe them.

Among the many faults of No Child Left Behind — recognized even by those who have faith in the utility of compilations of data to capture the essence of educational quality and believe that high stakes testing is the best way to create educational progress (I’m not one of them) — is that the accountability structures of NCLB in these areas are deeply flawed.

The purpose of the Pangloss Index (named after Doctor Pangloss from Voltaire’s Candide, who embodies baseless optimism) is to point out that many states avoid “accountability” (read the punishments doled out to schools that don’t meet the adequate yearly progress measures of the law) in their implementation and generally paint a rosy picture of the state of education. All well and good. If you believe in this stuff (as the Education Sector does) then you want it to be designed in a way that at least has a chance of being useful and documenting the flaws would be a good first step.

If you take the press releases (and here; I can’t resist highlighting this phrase from Kevin Carey: “even tightly constructed laws like NCLB,” “tightly constructed,” what planet is he living on?) at face value, that’s what the Pangloss Index is supposed to do. If you peek behind the curtain you will see that it is in fact a lazy and useless piece of garbage intended only to fan the flames of panic among those inclined to believe the worst about public education and “educrats.”

The whole thing is based on the absurd assumption that all positive data is wrong and all negative data is correct. Therefore, states that report good things get a high (bad) rating for “gaming” the system and states that report bad things get a low (good) rating for being honest and accountable. No effort (none at all) is made to assess the accuracy of any of the reported data or to correlate it with other measures. Don’t believe me? Here is what the report says:

This report is based on data submitted by state departments of education to the U.S. Department of Education through reports called Consolidated State Performance Reports (CSPRs)…The “Pangloss Index” found in Table 1 of this report is calculated by aggregating state rankings on 11 measures derived from the CSPRs….For each measure, states were ranked so that the states reporting the most positive results were ranked highest. For example, while states were ranked highest if they reported the highest high school graduation rates and highest percent of schools making adequate yearly progress, they were also ranked highest if they reported the lowest number of persistently dangerous schools and the lowest high school dropout rates.

This is just a stupid way to look at education policy and practice. The Education Sector has lots of money and a respectable reputation and should refrain from these kind of games if they want to keep the reputation (the money would no doubt continue to flow, money in education policy cares little about standards of honesty or scholarship).

Post of interest on last year’s Pangloss Index:

Jay Bullock: Paging Dr. Pangloss

Thomas J. Mertz

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Filed under Accountability, AMPS, Best Practices, Gimme Some Truth, National News, nclb, No Child Left Behind

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