05/27/2014 02:27 pm ET Updated Jul 27, 2014

Educational Rankings: Why Are We So Obsessed With Rating Everything?

The front page of the Sunday, May 11 Chicago Tribune immediately grabbed my attention: "Illinois new school rating system will hold minority students to a different standard." Our schools are unable to meet the 100 percent proficiency requirement of the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act? No problem. If you can't change the schools, just change the rating system.

I hate to think of how many of my tax dollars went to the bureaucrats who came up with yet another system for rating kids, schools and teachers. This time our state has decided that 85 percent of white children need to pass state tests by 2019, as compared with 73 percent of Latino children and 70 percent of black children. Luckily, we have until 2019 to get there, and if we don't, I suspect they will change the rules again.

It's hard to say what is most offensive about this. Of course, it is wrong to have lower expectations for children of color. Isn't this why we got into this standards and testing mania to begin with? Then there is the notion that, by rating something, a meaningful truth is uncovered and a worthwhile change will happen.

Our country has become obsessed with rating things. When you buy anything online, you are hounded to rate it. When you purchase a book or toy from Amazon, you receive an email that begs you for a rating. We rate restaurants, doctors, entertainment, appliances...actually, we rate everything we do or buy.

But can you rate education in the same way? I guess you could, but we don't because it is too subjective and unscientific. No one asks the parents or mature student consumers about how well they liked the educational product or how good their school experience was. Well, that's not totally true because there are Yelp and Facebook review of schools.

But the educational-industrial complex, using complicated mathematical formulas, does the ones that count. I have blogged about how this makes no sense for evaluating teachers, schools, and even early childhood programs. Nevertheless, we continue the same policy of rating every aspect of a child's education that began with No Child Left Behind and continues with Race to the Top. And now the government wants to join U.S. News & World Reports and rank colleges. Time magazine points out the pitfalls of this approach in an April 28 article by Haley Sweetland Edwards, Should U.S. colleges be graded by the government?

Have we reduced our children's educations to a high stakes version of David Letterman's Top 10 List? At least we acknowledge his lists are funny and there are no consequences to them other than a good laugh. But a list ranking colleges according to some formula dreamed up by the Department of Education? That could do some serious damage to small, less conventional colleges with many part time students, who take longer to graduate and end up in lower paid jobs, like teaching ironically.

It occurs to me that, at a certain point, we should give folks credit for figuring out for themselves if a given college is worth the money. Maybe greater effort to make colleges in general more affordable would be more useful than ranking them. Regardless of where a student matriculates, paying back all of that loan money is a real stumbling block to getting started in life.

In 1963, Professor of Sociology named William Bruce Cameron said the following (often attributed to Einstein): "Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts."

The things that matter in life can't always be ranked and rated. Spend the money instead to make education higher quality and more accessible. That would be time and money well spent.

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