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‘Draft Framework’ of new college ranking system for something other than football revealed

Emil Photo Again Edited 61b7dabb61239

In a week of news that included North Korea’s hack of Sony over a $44 million comedy, normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba, and the latest twists in the Cosby scandal, it would be understandable if you missed an item.

And if you were desperately playing catch-up, listening to all the episodes of that podcast, “Serial,” you surely wouldn’t have noticed this one item in particular. (Now if the North Koreans really wanted to upset the American intelligentsia, that country would have ignored Seth Rogan and hacked the servers of “Serial.”)

But I digress.

More important to you in higher ed (even more so than the University of Virginia trying to deflect its sexual assault problem by blaming the media) is the simple matter of where your school might place in a new federal ranking system of our nation’s colleges.

Why should U.S. News have all the fun ranking schools, when the feds can do it and then use it as a basis to make better use of its limited financial aid dollars?

Does a poor performing school really need more federally-subsidized students? Or are there better schools where we can place and invest in students?

That’s probably why the “draft framework” was unveiled just on Friday. Just in time to get lost conveniently in the holidays.

Oh, and they want a first release in eight months. Merry Christmas.

The actual idea was hatched back in August 2013 when President Obama announced his plans to grade schools on things that really matter, like access to lower-income students, affordability, and the ability of graduates to find jobs and pay off loans.

Last week, came the first concrete sense of what these ratings might look like.

Ted Mitchell, under-secretary of education, indicated that schools would be placed into three categories from low to high performing schools, with most somewhere in the middle.

“We want to avoid the false precision that we believe plagues lots of ratings,” said Mitchell in a New York Times report. “We think the top and the bottom will be relatively small categories.”

At least, we’ll know relatively few schools will flunk the federal test outright. But there will also be fewer really outstanding schools as well.

What we may end up with are rankings that help us see what relative mediocrity looks like.

That could be helpful.

Mitchell says they’re trying to make these meaningful rankings to help schools do better and to help parents and students make the best choices for them.

But he still seems to be grappling with how to make a ranking system fair.

When it was first envisioned, schools would be ranked by peer group. Since then, critics have worried about making sure the rankings don’t mix apples and oranges.

The president had hoped the ratings could be started up in 2018. But Mitchell indicates a 1.0 version will be in place by the start of the next year.

Keep in mind that any connection to financial aid would require congressional action, something Congress hasn’t been exactly known for.

But the draft is a signal. The president’s ranking system looms and is not going away.

Emil Guillermo writes on issues of race, culture and politics for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund ( Like him at ; twitter@emilamok

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