[FORUM]Data needed for improvement

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[FORUM]Data needed for improvement

Cheating is what some students do, and their teachers are supposed to catch this academic dishonesty. However, teachers at public schools in the United States must have been tempted to help their students cheat or give them better grades in the late 1990s.
Their motivation would have been the high-stakes testing system, where schools with low test scores were put under probation or shut down and teachers could be fired based on their students’ performances. This was more than enough reason for teachers to encourage or even assist in acts of academic dishonesty.
Economics professor Steven Levitt of the University of Chicago set out to analyse the practice of teachers assisting students to cheat. The Chicago educational authorities provided Mr. Levitt with reading and mathematics examination papers of students in the third to seventh grades at public schools between 1993 and 2000. Mr. Levitt thoroughly reviewed more than 100 million answers in total, about 700,000 exam papers from 30,000 students per grade from each year. He discovered evidence of dishonest practice in more than 200 classes, nearly 5 percent of the total, as he identified unique answer patterns that wouldn’t have been possible without the teachers being involved. Based on Mr. Levitt’s research, the educational authorities of Chicago fired 12 teachers and gave warnings to many others.
The State of Texas has been promoting the Texas School Project (TSP) since 1992. The state government has disclosed various records of the 10 million students that attended public schools in Texas in the last 13 years, as well as data on 500,000 faculty and staff members, and plans to establish educational policies based on research analysis of that data. The data accumulated by the TSP are leading to many valuable results.
The National Center for Education Statistics, under the federal government, drafts a report called the “National Assessment of Educational Progress” and is active in providing necessary data to researchers.
Those who take a human value-oriented view on education might find such an efficiency-oriented approach offensive. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that these analyses considerably enhance educational efficiency.
However, such development cannot be expected in Korea because education-related data is rarely made public. That’s why the Liberal Education Movement Federation, a “new-right” group, initiated administrative litigation against the Ministry of Education and Human Resources last month. The federation filed in the Seoul Administration Court, arguing that it was unreasonable for the Education Ministry to refuse to disclose the academic performance evaluation data for elementary, middle and high schools and the College Scholastic Ability Test data for each school, excluding the materials that could be used to identify individual students. Grand National Party lawmaker Lee Ju-ho, a former educational economist, has proposed a bill on the disclosure of education-related information to the National Assembly.
The reason why the Ministry of Education refused to disclose the data seems simple. It is concerned about the negative side effects of making the data public. By ranking schools around the nation, the information would ignite excessive competition, encourage private outside-class tutoring and obstruct the normal operation of curriculums. The authorities are worried that once report cards on schools are out, side effects of the ministry’s standardization policy will be revealed, and consequently, students will compete to get in to those schools that rank the highest.
However, considering that the biggest problem of the education environment in Korea at this point is the disappearance of public education, the reluctance of the education ministry is hard to understand. In order to normalize our public education, it is necessary to precisely survey the difference in the quality of education offered at individual schools and improve those schools shown by the data to be falling behind. Moreover, there is no way to improve the efficiency of education without analyzing the quality and aptitude of teachers.
It is still debatable whether the purpose of education should be to build up good character rather than competition, and if standardization of high schools is advisable. However, we cannot deny that one of the most important purposes of education is to enhance academic achievement.
As President Roh Moo-hyun has said, education needs to be a core means of policy to resolve the problem of social disparity and differentiation. In order to resolve social polarization, we need more research analyzing the realities of public education. The necessary premise of such research is the disclosure of various data related to education, including the results of the College Scholastic Ability Test. Nevertheless, the Ministry of Education is tightly holding on to the data out of concern about short-term problems, such as revealing the ranking of schools. The short-sighted attitude of the ministry may as well mean a pursuit of educational policies based on ambiguous philosophy or a hunch, without a basic analysis of education-related data. The government should not oppose the release of education data only because a new-right group and the Grand National Party demanded them.

* The writer is a deputy head of the policy planning team of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Lee Se-jung
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