Many people tune out when education discussions turn to data and statistics. For whatever reason, some folks just don’t like numbers. So a discussion about the development of education data is likely to attract an audience rivaling that of a paint-drying contest.
But if you care about K-12, you should definitely care about the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). This is the government body responsible for collecting and reporting a wealth of data on our schools—data that’s voluminous, comparable across years, and typically above reproach in terms of reliability.
I say “typically” because there is some reason for worry. Late in 2013, I scolded the federal government for massaging NAEP TUDA data, which reports on the performance of large urban districts. In short, we should’ve been deeply alarmed by the results, but the packaging gave the opposite impression.
This would’ve been troubling enough. What bothered me even more was that an advocacy organization that represents and serves large urban districts was an integral part of the release process.
But what happened next truly opened my eyes to the extent of the potential problem. The then-head of NCES quickly responded to my piece. He noted that his organization was only responsible for producing the data, which they do “free of ‘spin’ or partisan/political influence.” The National Assessments Government Board (which is in charge of NAEP), he wrote, is in charge of the public release pursuant to federal law.
He continued: “NAGB has...