Thursday, July 27, 2006

Idiot Stossel Column

Yesterday, John Stossel, in his syndicated column entitled “Smearing Education Choice” attacks the conclusions of the recent Department of Education study that showed that students in public schools and private schools performed about the same in tests of reading and math. Stossel, a zealot on school choice, asks:

“Then why did the new study conclude that public schools performed as well?”

His answer:

“The researchers tortured the data.”

Oh? Stossel explains:

“It seems the private school kids actually scored higher on the tests, but then the researchers ‘dug deeper.’ They ‘put test scores into context’ by adjusting for ‘race, ethnicity, income and parents' educational backgrounds to make the comparisons more meaningful.’

Maybe it's unfair to call that ‘torturing the data.’ Such regression analysis is a valid statistical tool. But it's prone to researcher bias. Statistical hocus-pocus is not the best way to compare schools.”

Stossel's analysis that the results of the study came about is because the researchers “tortured the data” just reveals that he should stick to what he knows -- which obviously is not statistics. If he knew anything about regression analyses, let alone hierarchical linear modeling, then he would know what a rigorous and essentially unassailable analysis that the researchers carried out (given the limitations they faced, such as not having information about the students' prior academic achievement to have a point of comparison).

If Stossel wants to advocate school choice as his personal position, fine. But he shouldn't embarrass himself by thinking he can intelligently discuss the level of statistics presented in the Department of Education study.


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