Year of 1983. Reagan Administration.
A report from US Department of Education dropped a bombshell on American public. The shock, if taken in retrospect, is worse than Gagarin’s space travel two decades ago. “For the first time in the history of our country, the educational skills of one generation will not surpass, will not equal, will not even approach, those of their parents.”
Ripples of education reforms were instigated combating the American education’s sliding trend. Riding in Reagan’s era of deregulation, charter school made into the state and national discussions. When the State of Minnesota became the first to allow charter schools, a national curriculum for K-12 was yet an awareness of Janet Napolitano, the recently resigned president of University of California system whose last action is to obsolete SAT in admission. Napolitano, chairing National Governors Association in 2009, incubated the Common Core State Standard that regulates today’s classrooms. One of her recruits for Common Core development, David Coleman, is now the CEO of a known education duopoly, the College Board.
Yet, one thing came along with the reforms was rather innovative. It is the first of all College Rankings that we are today indulged with, the US News & World Report Best Colleges. In 1983, Mel Elfin took the responses from 1300 colleges to his uniform questionnaire and scored them in respects such as academic, faculty, and student qualities. Questionnaire has since become de facto standard of obtaining information for rankings. Along become norms are the club of four elite colleges that have always occupied the top of the rankings, Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford. Others occasionally atop seem decorations to the Ranking’s claims on its fairness and diversity. Technology advances soon enabled Elfin to reproduce this bi-annual ranking yearly.
Since Education for Economic Security Act in 1984 was enacted, Americans have seen one major education law every two years. Like EES’1984, every of the new laws stressed on the vital improvement on math and science capacities, imperative equality of education among students, and satisfactory measurements of teaching and learning progress. No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 mandated standard-based yearly results especially among the disadvantaged and disabled. Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 stepped forward in requiring periodic standardized tests, either proprietary designed or commonly adopted. Yes, the SAT is included.
As popularity of college rankings grew, the mechanism evolved. Elfin’s scoring seems too subjective. Robert Morse brought a new way that sorts and weighs information in a more sophisticated framework. Forging the algorithm into quantitative fashion, Morse has since presided the US News’ ranking team. Data sourcing diversifies too. Unlike a dozen of agencies that replicated US News, College Prowler emerged in 2002 with user generated content and a layered algorithm. Originally developed as a class project at Carnegie Mellon, it expanded into a household name known as Niche in just a few years, which today ranks and rates in as many areas as US News does.
Reform after reform, Americans only see their children’s academic performance lowered than many other countries. PISA, a well-known tri-annual cross-national tests on reading, mathematical and scientific literacy among 15-year-olds in some 70 developed and developing countries, placed the U.S. an unimpressive 38th in math and 24th in science. Among the 35 members of the OECD that sponsors the PISA initiative, the U.S. ranked 30th in math and 19th in science. The well-intentioned politically-crafted reforms have not saved the American children.
The year that a college appear on the ranking correlates with its positions. Duke ignored Elfin’s call in 1983 and attended him two years later. John Hopkins followed suit even later, in 1988. The two southern colleges have averaged at 7th and 14th respectively. UCLA commenced in the questionnaire in 1989, and was locked between 20th and 30th. Its sister school, Berkeley, instead, boarded since inception, and made steadily 3-6 spots better.
Our rankings dictate a world of colleges, so do our colleges dominate the world. According to US Department of Education’s Open-Door Report, America is the most wanted place for study abroad, housing over 1 million foreign students. Domestically, when recruiting letters from Harvard, Duke, and Berkeley keep flooding our mail boxes, we fantasize that our kids matriculate to the colleges that a whole world wants.
Despite reforms on state and federal curriculums, assessments, and budgeting, our struggles at K-12 have never lessened. Lowered student competence in math, science, and even reading is now multiplied by lacking of teachers as well as draining on public education investment. Metropolitan schools are closed, and suburban schools are consolidated. No doubt that a third of American high school seniors every year graduate unable to score a minimum of 25% questions in a four-choice standardized test. In other words, they are beaten by a rolling dice.
A global dominance of American colleges, though, has been buttressed by floods of intellectual and financial resources, thanking to their reputations casted in the fantasy of college rankings. Nearly 40 years passed the creation of college ranking, the interest to rank colleges has expanded to everywhere in the global market. Times, Newsweek, Quacquarelli Symonds, and dozens of others populate the game field. Yet, US News Best Colleges remains the most known, and HYPS go on most wanted.
Lacking of mathematical and scientific delicacy throughout their childhoods, will Americans in 21st century made into Mars as we, their parents and grandparents are wishing?