NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Educators Denounce Double Standards For Schools

January 18, 1999

Chester E. Finn Jr., a highly-respected education analyst, deplores the trend toward expecting less of poor and minority youngsters and of those who teach them. He favors rating schools on uniform criteria that parents would consider fair and objective.

Finn cites a recent U.S. News and World Report ranking of high schools as an example of what he considers a dangerous and disappointing trend.

  • The magazine's editors created a "value added" analysis, Finn says, that purports to identify schools that "do a better job of educating their students than would be expected, given their students' backgrounds."
  • As a result, a host of highly successful schools are omitted from the rankings, while mediocre schools -- albeit those which do a better job of educating than might be expected -- are praised.
  • Finn notes the same trend among some states -- with Indiana, Kansas and New Mexico, for example, now calibrating their school accountability systems to tolerate weaker results from schools attended by poor children.
  • As a result, high schools serving poor youngsters can remain accredited even if 75 percent of their students fail the state's math test.

Finn warns that the federal government is slipping into the same practice. "In monitoring the performance of low-income children served by the Title I remedial program," he writes, "the Department of Education compares them with only the 'basic' achievement level on National Assessment tests, not with the far more demanding 'proficient' level that everyone else is supposed to attain."

He singles out Texas for commendation, however. "Its ambitious accountability system sets the bar at the same place for almost all schools," he points out. Finn notes that minority fourth- graders in Texas now outperform their counterparts in nearly every other state on national exams."

Sources: Chester E. Finn Jr. and Michael J. Petrilli (both of the Manhattan Institute), "Education Ratings Employ Rank Double Standards," Wall Street Journal, January 18, 1999.


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