Malcolm Gladwell takes apart the U.S. News & World Report college rankings. He clarifies the obvious: that the U.S. News rankings are self-fulfilling; the magazine's metrics prize prestige and its top-rated schools are the most prestigious. And the prestige of those top-rated schools then increases . . . because they're at the top of the U.S. News rankings. This point has been made, over and over, by education-policy types, who are incredibly proficient at identifying the inherent weaknesses in U.S. News's methodology. One wonders, though, why the same education-policy types can be so obtuse when it comes to identifying the just-as-glaring weaknesses in other sorts of education-related rankings and comparisons. International testing come immediately to mind. The latest example: the PISA scores, the results of which showed that students in Shanghai had?done better than test-takers in other nations, including the United States. The obvious methodological problem here is that only pupils from one of China's most-affluent, most-educated areas took the test; one wonders how well Chinese youngsters from their country's rural west would've fared. But most unfortunate were all the subsequent extrapolations emanating from the American ed-policy realm?e.g., that a set of PISA numbers somehow foretold economic destiny and global eminence. The problems with such reasoning are far and away more egregious than any flaws in the U.S. News college rankings.
?Liam Julian, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow