Home > Uncategorized > America Loves Rankings and Lists… And WalletHub Delivers One of the Worst

America Loves Rankings and Lists… And WalletHub Delivers One of the Worst

July 31, 2018

This morning’s Google feed on public education was full of articles from newspapers across the country reporting on their state’s ranking based on WalletHub’s analysis. This immediately led me to ask the following question: Who did the rankings and how were they determined?

I clicked on the WalletHub report link and found this synopsis, which, as my highlights indicate, if full of flawed thinking that immediately led me to the accurate conclusion that this was developed by conservative “reformers” who value the market place over “government schools”:

Securing a child’s academic success begins with choosing the right schools.But how can parents decide where to enroll their kids? Because children develop and learn at different rates, the ideal answer to that question varies based on each student’s needs. Unfortunately, most parents can’t afford to place their children in exclusive, private or preparatory schools that give their students greater individual attention.

For the majority of U.S. families, public education is the only option. But the quality of public school systems varies widely from state to state and is often a question of funding. Public elementary and secondary education money usually flows from three sources: the federal, state and local governments. According to the U.S. Department of Education, states contribute nearly as much as local governments, while the federal government supplies the smallest share. Some researchers have found that more resources — or taxes paid by residents — typically result in better school-system performance.

In the first sentence the writers state that “choice of schools” is readily available to parents, a notion supported by the second sentence. In the last sentence of the first paragraph the writers repeat the erroneous claim that “exclusive private or preparatory schools” offer students better outcomes than public schools. And the last sentence of the second paragraph cherry picks an unsubstantiated research finding that reliance on property taxes results in superior performance. These are all bullet points that conservative researchers love… and sure enough the team of experts who prepared this report come from think tanks and colleges and universities underwritten by “reform minded” billionaires.

So… how DID WalletHub generate their rankings? Here’s the overview:

Unlike other research that focuses primarily on academic outcomes or school finance, WalletHub’s analysis takes a more comprehensive approach. It accounts for performance, funding, safety, class size and instructor credentials. To determine the top-performing school systems in America, WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across 25 key metrics. Read on for our findings, expert insight from a panel of researchers and a full description of our methodology.

This sounds eminently reasonable… but in fact it relies mostly on test scores (roughly 50%), dropout rates (15%), and other external rankings (7%). Pupil-teacher ratio’s account for 3.64% of the rankings as does “share of licensed teachers”. 20% of the rankings are based on a list of ten variables that include “Number of School Shootings” and “Presence of Adopted and Enacted Laws Regulating Mandatory School Resource Officers”, the presumption being that there is some correlation between the two.

When all is said and done, the top ranked states are predictable: Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Vermont. And here’s what is interesting: had the researchers used union membership, per pupil spending, and parent education levels as their primary metrics they would have come up with a similar ranking…. But those variables would undercut their baseline premises.

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