Gladwell on rankings

An abstract of Malcolm Gladwell's article,  The Order of Things (the subtitle is What College Rankings Really Tell Us) is available at the New Yorker.  The full article is available only with subscription. From the abstract:

The U.S. News & World Report’s annual “Best Colleges” guide is run by Robert Morse, whose six-person team operates out of a small office building in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Over the years, Morse’s methodology has steadily evolved, and the ranking system looks a great deal like the Car and Driver methodology. It is heterogeneous. It aims to compare Penn State—a very large, public, land-grant university with a low tuition and an economically diverse student body—with Yeshiva University, a small, expensive, private Jewish university. The system is also comprehensive. Discusses suicide statistics. There’s no direct way to measure the quality of an institution, so the U.S. News algorithm relies instead on proxies for quality—and the proxies for educational quality turn out to be flimsy at best. Describes the reputation score and reputational biases. Mentions Michael Bastedo. Jeffrey Stake, a professor at the Indiana University law school, runs a Web site called the Ranking Game, which demonstrates just how subjective rankings are. There are schools that provide a good legal education at a decent price, and, by choosing not to include tuition as a variable, U.S. News has effectively penalized those schools for trying to provide value for the tuition dollar. The U.S. News ranking turns out to be full of these kinds of implicit ideological choices.

Here is the Ranking Game site run by Jeffrey Stake, mentioned above, where you can learn how ranking works using the applet and ranking law schools.

Ranking schools this way is problematic but even more awful is the ranking of students within schools, by grading and sorting, and the impact of this on children.  The social climate we provide for children is far, far more negative than what was happening 100 years ago.
I said it this way about a year ago:
The emphasis on ranking was far less when the public school system was begun.  The majority of people had strong communities and were not vocationally dependent on school rankings to make a life for themselves.  Agriculture and small business provided most of their vocations though schools began to make more and more workers for the industrialized state.  Early on, there was more situational padding for the pernicious effects of ranking on students than there is today when the majority now depend on schools for vocational training.  And efforts to make institutions that thrived within a social structure that has disappeared now concentrate on increased policing and a mistaken attempt to measure learning itself instead of providing a social service.
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