What we need is “crisp, data-driven, measurable methods”

My hope in starting this blog was to spark some authentic debate among readers.  I was delighted when Steve Kane threw down a strong opinion on my post “What About Alejandro?”  Here’s his comment:

“yup – our notions of a “good teacher” are just outmoded, sentimental, fuzzy and useless unless that person also produces measurable results

i humbly submit that libraries and the internet are for individual betterment — for the person who wants to expand their horizons and explore the world thru texts and images or just explore. wander in, wander out. think about math, or think about wheel of fortune, whatever.

but schools are created for society’s betterment, not for any individual’s well being. schools are for the collective shaping of young people and other students into (what we hope are suitable) citizens and effective competitors in the real world of employment and comfort. and the price of failure is that the collective society has to support those who can’t successfully compete, whether thru charity or government programs or emergency rooms. and i think we all — even the most disenfranchised — want to have a system that creates the fewest number of indigents?

“Ben” is a terribly sad case, but at best, an anecdote. Schools, and particularly public schools, are vehicles for the transfer of wealth from the present community to the future community, and from those with more means, to those with less means. (i know, the broken property tax system and hardened teachers unions etc have corroded those missions. but we can and will get back to basics.) unless we have shared, crisp, data-driven, measurable methods to determine whether education is indeed preparing people for the always competitive and highly nepotism-driven future, then all we are doing is spending huge sums of common wealth on coddling kids into an unprepared, uncompetitive leap into a hard and getting harder world — and sending ourselves a huge bill for propping up a growing pool of the disenfranchised

one “Mr Chips” does not a valuable, scalable system make. and sad as it may be, losing one “Mr Chips” — or many Mr Chips — does not a valuable, scalable system unmake.

my $0.02″

That’s Steve’s $0.02.  What’s yours?

If you love this kind of debate, to check out a blog by someone who by and large agrees with Steve, read Doug Lemov’s blog.  Then, for some impassioned disagreement, check out Diane Ravitch’s blog. For a specific opinion on this topic, try Jack Schneider’s piece “What’s Missing From The Education Reform Debate?”

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5 thoughts on “What we need is “crisp, data-driven, measurable methods””

  1. My $0.02 is that Steve Kane is right on (bringing us to a collective $0.04). We absolutely need measurable results in education. But there is another aspect to measuring teacher performance (based on measuring student performance) that I sense has been largely lost in the debate—and, more important, seems to have been lost in the way that the system deals with individual educators.

    When the metrics show that a teacher like Alejandro is not performing, what is done with the information? Is it used mainly to punish him? Or is he given the data so that he can pinpoint areas where, “awesome” though he may be, he genuinely needs to improve?

    Measurement systems are valuable only if they provide useful (that is, truly significant, timely, simple, actionable) information to the people being measured so that they can then take steps to improve their performance. If the data is primarily used to bludgeon or embarrass or control from above, it is being grossly misapplied.

    I’d love to know from teachers what their experience is in this regard.

  2. “Schools, and particularly public schools, are vehicles for the transfer of wealth from the present community to the future community, and from those with more means, to those with less means”

    Well, totally disenfranchised people may not be ideally situated to acquire the wealth that the well-off would like to help them share. But potentially disenfranchised people who’ve made connections with an adult — maybe moreso. And then there’s the question of whether more wealth makes you happier, as long as you’re above a poverty threshold.

    1. Hi Bill. I was using the word “wealth” in the broadest possible sense. Not just material wealth, but information, knowledge, access, human connections, community and social networks, opportunity, even health and nutrition. So I would argue that, unequivocally, yes, more wealth makes most humans happier.

  3. For much of the year, our children often spend the majority of their waking hours at school. And, while it is of course important for them to learn measurable academic skills, a school functions as a microcosm of the world where skills such as cooperation, resourcefulness, kindness, sensitivity, courage, self-esteem and the ability to be happy and bring happiness to others — much less athletic or artistic skill — are also honed. These many latter skills are not only much harder to measure than test scores, but one could argue equally important to creating people who will lead happy and productive lives. One could also argue that easily measured results, such as test scores, will naturally lead to more easily-measured results (e.g., how many kids go to college, and from there, how many go to a “top” college, and from there to, say, how many go to an Ivy League college, after which we measure how many go to graduate school followed, inevitably, by the average gross income of these graduates). This would ultimately suggest that the best schools have produced the richest graduates. I’d argue that the best schools provide their students with a variety of academic and social skills that give them options to create the life they want. Measurable results are appealing because they are tangible (or at least appear to be) and can provide relatively quick gratification. However, when discussing what role measurable results should play in our schools, I think we need to first question and decide what the schools are preparing are children for and, indeed, what kind of society we want to be.

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