No Comparisons, Darn It

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As Buffalo Springfield put it once, something’s happening here.

Over the years at Logos School, we have been consistently proud of our students, and of their high level of performance coupled with consistent cheerfulness. All the classes have been remarkable, and some of them have been spooky. I remember one time, a number of years ago, when we had something like 4-5 National Merit types in a senior class of about twenty. There were two other high schools in Idaho who had the same number of recognized students — but they were drawing from a pool of around 400-500 students in their senior classes. It was the kind of thing that makes you go huh. And I did go huh.

The nationwide pool of semifinalists in the National Merit competition represents less than one percent of all American high school seniors. About ninety percent of them become finalists, and roughly half of them actually receive merit scholarships. So let’s take that number — less than one percent and remember it.

On one web site talking about all this National Merit business, a caution is posted against doing what (full disclosure!) I am just about to do. “Using numbers of

Semifinalists to compare . . . educational systems . . . will result in erroneous conclusions.” The program is only about honoring “individual students who show exceptional academic ability and potential for success in rigorous college studies.” The program “does not measure the quality or effectiveness of education within a school, system, or state,” darn it.

Okay, okay. Everybody who knows anything about these sorts of things knows that invalid comparisons are easy to make, and that you have to make allowances for all kinds of variables. But anybody who has been around our failing educational system for any time at all also knows that failing educational systems hate accountability. Notice the warning — anybody who uses these numbers for purposes of comparison will get “erroneous conclusions.” No matter what form the argument takes? No matter how many variables are allowed for? Right, no matter what. Thou shalt not compare methods of education.

All that said, compared to the national average of less than one percent, over the last 14 years, Logos School reckons up 279 grads. During those years, 32 of our students have attained National Merit Finalist status. That’s over 11%. But if we reason from this observation in any way whatever, we will get an erroneous conclusion. So be careful.

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