First published in educational Horizons Fall 1997

Clabaugh's Index of Leading Educational Indicators

©2000 Gary K. Clabaugh


edited 9/2/11

Way too much is made of standardized test scores. Public officials worry over them the way a hypochondriac frets about his bowel movements. Politicians point to them as if they were the pronouncements of Moses. Parents take them so seriously it suggests their own children must be strangers. And school officials anticipate their public unveiling as a condemned man awaits his own execution.

All of this is more than passing odd. At their best, standardized tests indirectly measure trivial things. They tell us nothing at all about whether schooling is having a positive impact on the way children will live their lives.

Many admit the weaknesses of standardized tests, but still argue for their administration. "We need some measure of school effectiveness." This is humbug. There already are widely available indices that offer a much better measure of educational progress. All we need do is stop ignoring them.

Departing from my customary humility, I propose we call this compilation of indices Clabaugh's Index of Leading Educational Indicators. Anyway, here is a preliminary list. Keep in mind, it is tentative.

The Nielson Ratings

Here is an enormously powerful index of schooling's effectiveness. Count the number of adults regularly viewing professional wrestling, for example, and we are counting people that schooling somehow failed. The same thing applies to "Jenny Jones," "Ricki Lake" and "Jerry Springer." The higher their Nielsons, the gloomier we should be about the nation's schools. If, on the other hand, viewership is high for, say, National Geographic Specials, History Channel or Discovery Channel offerings, there is reason for optimism.

CD and Music Video Sales

Here I'm thinking of keeping tabs on the sales figures of various musical artists and genres. Like the popularity of paintings of Elvis on black velvet, it reveals a great deal about schooling's success. We could, for example, compare gangsta rap music sales with classical music sales. Our schools surely have failed miserably if most consumers prefer Snoop Doggy Dog to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart or Biggy Small to Frederick Chopin.

Cult Membership

Every Jonestown resident who eagerly swigged lethal Cool Aid represented a schooling failure. So did the men in David Koresh's cult who allowed Dave to sexually service their wives and daughters because, as Koresh patiently explained to them, he was the only man pure enough for the job. And what about the schooling of that Heaven's Gate crowd who had themselves castrated to conform with "Bo" and "Peep's" teachings, then "left their containers" to rendezvous with a space ship concealed behind the Hale-Bopp comet. They seemed a bit deficient in critical thinking skills.

Supermarket tabloid sales

The sales figures of these grotesque gazettes provide a far more valid measure of educational progress than anything ETS could dream up. I'm talking about those papers that headline things like "Woman commits suicide in dishwasher!", or "Half boy, half dolphin washes up on beach!" Of course, tabloid sales figures are an inverse measure of educational progress..

The Popularity of Con-artist Televangelist's

Their income figures, available from the IRS Tax Exempt Branch, are a sure measure of schooling's effectiveness. The more money they make, the less well our schools have done. Consider, for example, the Reverend Benny Hinn's television ministry. Hinn, the subject of a CNN expose, is the chap who lapses into "trances" while conducting worship services. The Holy Spirit then allegedly uses Hinn's vocal apparatus to speak to the congregation. Hinn, by the way, alleges he has no idea what the Spirit says. He has to ask the congregation after he regains consciousness. The amount of money sent to guys like Hinn should be monitored carefully. It is an inverse measure of school effectiveness.

The Ratings of the Psychic Friends Network

Imagine calling the Psychic Friends Network to decide who and when you should marry, if the one you love loves you, or how to make a person at a distance think of you. That many people seriously do this is a telling measure of schooling's ineffectiveness. When this and similar programs no longer can afford television time, our schools are doing their job.

The New York Times Best Seller List

It's encouraging if people read books at all. But the quality of the books on this best-sellers list testifies eloquently about the success or failure of our schools. Not long ago there were people out there, for example, who found it plausible to think that God had secretly constructed his own seek and find word game in the Holy Bible. That's the premise of the best selling, The Bible Code. Then there are the folks, God forgive them, who sent Howard Stern's Private Parts rocketing to the top of this best seller list. Their teachers should prefer suicide over living with such failure.

The Quality of School Reform Editorials

Editorial opinions on school reform constitute irrefutable, if unintentional, proof that schools aren't getting it done. Let's keep tabs on these essays. When they become better reasoned, we'll know our schools are doing a better job.

Yes friends, this is the way we should measure school effectiveness. Such an index is much more powerful than anything Educational Testing Service or Psychological Corporation can contrive.

Perhaps some of you are thinking that schools are not exclusively , even mainly, responsible for the dismal state of affairs these measures suggest. So what? Educators aren't chiefly responsible for standardized test scores either. The point is to blame some one, and it might as well be people who haven't shown a disposition to fight back. Now, how about suggesting additional measures so that I can perfect Clabaugh's Index of Leading Educational Indicators? E-mail your possibilities to Make sure you label them, INDEX.