The Sky is Falling: Scandal and Our Schools

Another college scandal: this time, a well-regarded liberal-arts college in California’s Claremont system. An unnamed senior administrator at Claremont McKenna (likely the VP since, as LA’s newspapers have pointed out, he has been removed from the web site’s staff list) has admitted to skewing SAT scores for the past six years to boost the school’s ranking in U.S. News and World Report.

Everyone’s up in arms. The newspapers and electronic media are abuzz (just look at Twitter) and it’s a huge deal. And it is. But, I wonder, is it the *right* huge deal? No, I’m not saying it’s okay for administrators to mislead students, potential students, taxpayers and/or the general public. But…once again, I can’t help but think we’re focusing too narrowly. Claremont McKenna is not the only school to have done this for magazine and newspaper rankings — there are probably others doing that or something similar as we speak — and they likely won’t be the last. Certainly not if the current focus on rankings and, hence, dollars and cents continues.

It is, in my opinion, just another symptom of a broken system that puts school success ahead of student and societal success. Is the focus on Claremont’s SAT score tampering, rather than why it happened, really all that different than focusing on scandals at NCAA schools that are caught paying or giving gifts to lure top athletes? Doesn’t it just allow the same patterns to persist… where schools pay lip service to student success but really are only truly concerned about competing against each other and succeeding as an institution? If we were somehow able to remove students from the equation and look at our educational institutions under a microscope, would they really look all that different from other businesses involved in various sorts of scandals? Clearly, and, again, in my opinion, rating and publicity machines like U.S. News hold too much sway, carry to much weight…have too much influence. We’ve allowed them (and the schools, of course) to create a system of score-fudging, pandering to individual and corporate donors for naming rights, and/or giving academic advantages to athletes simply to get them to a school (I’d be willing to bet a lot of kids would benefit from having a personal tutor and electronic-device-of-the-day provided to them.

Having said all this, however, there are still students at all of our schools — from elementary to college — that do well in spite of our worst efforts. I’m familiar with an exceptional Claremont McKenna student who has spoken of other exceptional students, so I believe that the SAT tweaking there probably only hides the exceptions to the rule and not the rule (i.e. that there are great students there). How to roll education back to being able to ensure that the focus can once again be on students — the great ones and the ones that could be great but get lost in the numbers game of rankings?

I wish I had an answer…instead of an even bigger question.


About deb

Wandering and wondering - taking it all in -- and increasingly shaking my head. Who are we and how did we get to this here? And, what, where and how next? Putting what I see and think out there in pictures and always looking for other ways, hence, this blog. This blog, like me, is a work in process and still doesn't quite know what it wants to be when it grows up.
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