Juking the stats


You show me anything that depicts institutional progress in America, school test scores, crime stats, arrest reports, arrest stats, anything that a politician can run on, anything that somebody can get a promotion on. And as soon as you invent that statistical category, 50 people in that institution will be at work trying to figure out a way to make it look as if progress is actually occurring when actually no progress is.”

David Simon, Gaming The System, Juking The Stats

Not surprisingly, we were all reminded again this week that college rankings inspire the same behavior. 

If you look to US News rankings to pick your colleges, you're relying on an algorithm that rewards measures like test scores, how many kids apply, how many get rejected, and how many of the accepted kids decide to attend.  That's some pretty flimsy data to use to evaluate where you should go to college for four years.  And there's no way to tell if or how much those stats are juked.  You can and should evaluate colleges.  But you can't measure the quality of an institution–how well it educates, inspires and transforms–with an algorithm.

By the way, Simon created and wrote The Wire, regarded as one of the finest dramatic series in the history of television.  And he didn't need to go to a "Top Ten Ranked" university to be successful.  He went to the University of Maryland.