False Proxy + False Proxy = Your Life

Inspiration to write can come from a lot of places. For me it comes quite often from Seth Godin‘s blog and a friend who goads me into connecting his work to education.

Today Mr. Godin blogged about false proxy traps. You can check out his blog for details. In a nutshell a false proxy is when a someone measures a component of something that is difficult to measure in order to justify the entire product. Good example: measuring the quality of a police force by how many people are put in jail. This measure would not take into account that a good police force may limit crime by there mere presence or that they are exemplary at solving problems. Crazy example: measuring the power of the Republican Party by watching Fox News exclusively.

Everyone may not agree but the forced high stakes testing required by NCLB is just such a trap. The idea of the testing program is to determine the quality of a school and its staff. Make no mistake about it. These tests, differently labeled in each state, were never meant to test the knowledge of students. The false proxy comes in when we try to take one test, administer it to thousands of students, and then compare them across a wide breadth of cultures, economies, and immeasurable demographics. My guess is that a district’s aggregate PSSA score can just as accurately determine the median income of the school’s coverage area as it can the success of the school. They could also pretty accurately determine the number of parents who attend parent conferences. The first thought would be easy to prove. Take every school and list them from high to low based on aid ratio (market value/personal income) and then make another list and sort them from low to high on district average PSSA score. I’d be willing to bet there is a high degree of comparability. It’s all public knowledge; give it a whirl!

So, I think we have shown pretty accurately that the PSSA is a false proxy for determining the quality of a school. Don’t get me wrong; some teacher’s should find a new career path. But I can compare scores of teacher’s that I work with who have abilities that are across the board in terms of quality instruction and the one’s that have limited skills have students who do just as well as the distinguished teacher’s students.

Second false proxy: The new Pennsylvania teacher evaluation model. This is even simpler. Charlotte Danielson developed this model to assist in improving the quality of teaching. Never, and the company developing the evaluation tool for Pennsylvania has admitted this, did she intend for the rubric to be diminished to a number. Statistically speaking, you can’t take a measure that is qualitative and quantify it. That is, however, what the Pennsylvania Department of Education intends to do. A tool built to determine the strengths and weaknesses of a teacher and guide him or her to being a distinguished educator will be used to measure his or her effectiveness.

Not only will it water all of this high quality information down to a single number but that number will count as 50% of a teacher’s – and eventually an administrator’s – annual evaluation. Throw in that another 15-30% of the annual evaluation will be determined by PSSA scores and you have a conglomeration of false proxies and statistical fallacies. Goog luck! Two years of low scores and poor observations or probably two years of average observations and average PSSA scores and you may be looking for a job – and me too!



Of Elephants and Leadership

Recently I read a quote that I have been contemplating ever since: You don’t let the guy with the broom control how many elephants are in the parade. Pretty witty and thought provoking stuff.  I came across that in Seth Godin’s blog which has become a daily read.  The gentleman credited with the quote is Merlin Mann.  I stumbled across his blog’s 43 Folders and 5ives .  I’m new to them but they are both introspective and insanely funny.

But back to the quote.  I began this week to relate this quote to some decisions that I need to make at work.  How often do we consider the lowest common denominator when we make a decision?  Do we think about the crap that we will need to clean up or do we think of the gallantry of 100 marching elephants?  Do we shy away from making big decisions because the fallout will be too much or even that the fallout will be (period)?  It’s way easier to cancel the elephants and replace them with firetrucks because we’ve always had firetrucks.  Sometimes the thing that makes the show, the product, the lesson, the experience, comes with some crap.  As leaders, we’ve got to be able to handle the fallout; the crap.

I guess to me this quote means to make the best decision based on what’s right – in my case what’s right for students – and be prepared to pick up an extra broom if need be.  As Godin says in his contemplating of the quote:  It is some people’s job to create commotion.  No commotion; no job.

Q and A

Two things came across my desk today that prompted this post.  The first was an article by Seth Godin dealing with the economy entitled “The Forever Recession (and the coming revolution)”.  In the article Mr. Godin talks about how the current recession will probably never end until we begin to think differently about how the world has changed and where we need to be heading.  Excellent article by a forward thinker.  For those of you who don’t know Seth Godin’s work, he is definitely a guy who questions the status quo and challenges us to think differently.  In my opinion, whether he is right or whether he is wrong is not as important as the fact that he takes an angle that we haven’t thought of yet and makes us think.  He somehow forces us down a narrow road that opens up into some mass of discovery.  He causes us to question.

Second, I asked a teacher about a procedure she used when questioning her students.  She asked them to take a second and think about what she asked, then answer it to themselves to see if it made sense, and then answer out loud.  This led to a discussion about quality questioning and quality responding.  The idea comes from the book Quality Questioning:  Research-based Practice to Engage Ever Learner by Walsh and Sattes.  In the excerpt from this book that I received, the authors note that not only is a quality question necessary but also it is important to know how to process the question in order to respond correctly.

My Challenge back to you then is to find the questions in “The Forever Recession,” make sure that you have really heard what Godin is asking, take those questions and prepare to respond.  Based on his article, I’m guessing that he is not waiting for you to raise your hand, I’m guessing that you better not spend too much time worrying about whether this will be on the test, I’m thinking that sometimes our response is an action. And like good teachers and good students it is our responsibility to share with our neighbor, our colleagues, our friends.