Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Numerically Speaking, Who is the Best?

It is actually a stupid question.  Most say it is Michael Jordan.  But there are a number of ways to determine the best basketball player of all time.  For some it depends on which number you look at.  Where a player ranks in terms of a particular statistical category is the usual measure.  Scoring, rebounding, assists, simple wins and losses, game winning shots or even number of championship rings.  Some move past this and direct focus on who could change a game or wanted the ball in their hands at the end of the game. 

Kobe, James, Jordan, Russell, Chamberlain and many others enter the conversation at various points.  Experts weigh whether it is even fair to judge players from different eras against each other.  The game changed.  For that matter whether it is even fair to compare players who play different positions as their roles are different.  Guards, centers all perform different jobs.  If a guard leads your team in rebounding, you've probably got issues.   

Student and even teacher excuses  can be more plentiful
Personally while I love college basketball, I've never really enjoyed the NBA and get a bit more into the NFL.  With the advent of Fantasy Football these conversations have taken on a new dimension.  Fantasy teams mean players are valued not for talent, heart or value to the team... but for how they stack up on the tally sheet.   Numbers can mislead you and as you stare at charts of player data.  Participants in fantasy leagues neglect the big picture and only look at stats.   Yards, points per game, supersede all else in a data driven world.  They can make you think a player is good when they are not and vice versa.  Like many the Underground has found enjoyment in this diversion.  We have become especially fond of pointing out the ineptitude of other basement member's fantasy squads.    This is a big week as we play each other.  No worries, I've got him covered. Not sure that's true but what is for certain is that fantasy sports have changed the way we watch the game and how we find enjoyment in sports.  The argument is less about who is the best and more about who had the best fantasy day.  Let's jump from athletics to education. 

As you are likely aware there are significant efforts to place a metric on the effectiveness of teachers.  The "game" has changed.   We worry less about who can teach and instead who has the best scores.  Politicians and reforms are using the obvious impact of teachers have on student performance as a reason to try and rate them using data.   Unable to affect change with what studies say is among the biggest factor, poverty ,they then go to teacher quality by default.   Out of their mouths flow phrases like "every child deserves to have great teachers" and that turns into some bastardized form of accountability.  The next step is to make some metric the measure of whether or not a teacher is effective.   Too often this is connected to some sort of test.   Having a score or number then somehow legitimizes your ability and skill as a teacher.  It quantifies your impact.  For me and the rest of Virginia's teachers, forty percent of my evaluation as a professional is taken from student growth.  I am fortunate it is not directly tied to a statewide test score as this approach seems to be incentivized by Race to the Top Funds,.... yet.  It is that way now.  But I foresee the day when that is not something I will be able to say.   While I've been wrong before concrete numbers matter.

To date, I have created my student goals and begun to plan on how to implement them but I am still not quite certain what or how I will use this to show growth without being too subjective.  I am choosing one measure of student growth related to our lifelong learner standards and their ability to write.  But because I grade this work it is invariably subjective.  Which leads us to the more objective method.  Standardized tests.  Sparing readers the indignity of why they are flawed as a true measure and far from ideal when it comes to telling whether or not someone can teach, I'll just say they are as misleading as fantasy points.   In fantasy football a player's team can build a big lead and that could actually hurt their point total.  Teachers are the most significant in-school piece to student learning and success but they are not the only piece and there is much out of and in school that plays a role. There's the motivational of students, desire to learn, attendance, class size, social incentives, socio-economic level, and school size all of which top a list that researchers constantly study and debate.  

These guys have taught me a lot
Teachers matter.  I know they matter a lot.  But other things matter too.  To attempt to objectively measure why one teacher might be better than another has the potential to prove as fruitful as an argument about who is the best NBA or NFL player.  And conceivably more pointless.  How much authentic learning goes unappreciated or is even replaced with narrow result oriented instruction?  The end result of this effort and energy does little to help me improve as a teacher and frankly I feel less supported.   Am I more inclined to narrow my approach to serve my goal(s)?  I hope not.   But the best way to measure me as a teacher is to be in the room with me while I teach.  Not once, but a lot. Still... improving teachers and learning by measures such as this is just that, a fantasy.  Thus it does little to improve the quality of education for students.  Maybe we should instead focus our attention on working to support all teachers and devote resources in their service, not to figuring out who is the "best".

1 comment:

  1. Power players in education do indeed have many fantasies about what is the correct course of action for improvement. Not the least of which is that a focus on teachers is wise. The policies pushed in education by corporate and for profit entities who have joined forces with cost cutting factions will be our undoing. Of this I am sure.