By way of Yong Zhao, we find this Economic Policy Institute report, “Let’s Do the Numbers“, about the false precision in the award process of the Obama Administration’s signature school reform initiative. Anyone involved in a grant award process knows that the design of the scoring metrics can have a huge effect on the outcome. Consider Massachusetts which lost millions of dollars because we wanted to examine why we should lower our curricular standards (italics mine):
…we examined the case of Massachusetts, which scored surprisingly low (13th of the 16 finalists) for a state with a reputation of having unusually high academic standards and achievement.
Massachusetts’ problem, it turned out, centered on metric (B)(1)(ii) “adopting standards.” The RTT guidelines required states to participate in the effort to develop common standards in reading and math. For this participation, Massachusetts, like Tennessee, was awarded the full 20 points allowed. But the guidelines also required states then to adopt these standards by next August. Massachusetts, as we noted, already has very high academic standards, so state policy makers might have had reason to wonder whether hasty adoption of these new common standards would improve or harm Massachusetts education. As a result, the state decided to permit a period of public comment between the time these new common standards are completed, and their formal adoption. For permitting this period of public comment, the state was deemed in violation of the competition rules, and the RTT reviewers docked Massachusetts a whopping 15 (out of 20 possible) points on this metric.
In sum, Massachusetts’ willingness to permit the public to comment on its academic standards, combined with a few quirks in the weighting system, cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars.
I realize any scoring system will have emphasize certain features, and that will favor some activities over others (how that devalues science education will be the subject of a future post). But participatory democracy is kinda important. Making sure we don’t make kids stupid by adopting crappy standards is also a responsible thing to do.
This is not very hopey changey.