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USC education school sent flawed data for ranking, report says

Two deans at the University of Southern California’s education school directed officials to omit key data submitted for U.S. News & World Report’s annual list of best graduate schools, moves that contributed to the school’s rise in the rankings, according to an investigation released Friday.

In March, USC announced that it pulled the Rossier School of Education out of U.S. News & World Report’s next annual rankings list after it discovered “a history of inaccuracies” in data reported by the school going back at least five years. The university commissioned an independent investigation to identity how the flawed data occurred.

Most recently, the school ranked No. 11 among education schools. The misreporting created the impression that the school’s “doctoral programs were much smaller and more selective than they actually were,” the report by the law firm Jones Day concluded.

The report describes a practice that lasted for several years under Dean Karen Symms Gallagher, who oversaw the Rossier School from 2000 to 2020, and continued under Dean Pedro Noguera, who started in 2020. Both deans signed off on the misreporting, though Noguera in late 2021 alerted the school’s provost to a possible problem.

Knowledge of the practice was “no secret,” the report states, and staff members at various points raised questions about its propriety.

At one point, a faculty chair warned that they were concerned about the school’s approach and worried about what would happen “if a scandal were to break out,” the report said.

The omitted data related largely to student selectivity — which accounts for 18% of a school’s overall score.

In reporting on the school’s doctoral programs, staff were directed to omit data from its EdD program and only include data from its PhD program, even though the survey instructions specifically asked for both.

The EdD program, which is generally aimed at developing professionals in the education field like principals and superintendents, is larger and has a significantly higher acceptance rate than its PhD program, which is far more selective and geared toward developing scholars and professors.

“The School was at all times free not to submit itself for rankings consideration by US News; having opted to submit, however, the School was not free to create its own rules,” the report says.

In a letter to Rossier students and staff on Friday, Noguera said he accepted “full responsibility for continuing the practice of inaccurately reporting data to USNWR during my first year as dean.”

“Regardless of the circumstances of the pandemic and my personal situation at the time, it was and remains my responsibility as dean to ensure that the high academic standards and quality are maintained at USC Rossier, and that all of our operations and conduct are ethical.”

Angel Horacek, an attorney representing Gallagher, did not respond to questions about the report but said during Gallagher’s “years as dean, the school focused on educating the educators. And the students that came to USC went out into the community to do good.”

In a separate letter, Provost Charles F. Zukoski expressed support for Noguera, saying the dean “has accomplished a great deal, and he enjoys widespread support from Rossier faculty and staff. President [Carol] Folt and I have confidence that he will move the school forward with integrity and vision.”

Zukoski said he and Noguera would work together “to implement new oversight functions to ensure that the school always meets the highest standards of excellence and integrity.”

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