Sunday, April 15, 2012

Better Late Than Never

I watched Moneyball last night. I'm late to the party, I realize, but my interest in baseball is about at the same level as my interest in watching paint dry. Just ain't my thing. What I didn't realize, however, is the film really isn't a baseball movie: It's a data movie. What if you selected a team by the numbers---setting aside most everything you knew about players as people: work ethic, level of fitness, age, how weird their pitch looked, etc? According to the plot ("based on a true story..."), you can do pretty well. I'm oversimplifying things, of course, but I'm not interested in nitpicking the film. What I'm curious about is what this strategy would look like in an educational setting.

What are the metrics associated with teaching or being an administrator? The "Value Added Models" I've seen don't even begin to capture the complexity of classroom work. But suppose that you could collect data about being a teacher. What would you include? If baseball players have stats to describe the various aspects of their work...why don't teachers?

One thing about the way baseball was portrayed in Moneyball was the impersonal nature of it all. You could arrive at a stadium to play for one team to discover you'd been traded and would be playing for the opposing team that very night. A stronger player was picked someone else had to be sent down. Baseball was portrayed a game of skills. Teaching is not a game and is built on relationships. What data could we collect to reflect this difference? I know the new teacher evaluation tools might be a start, but even then, sample size would be limited to a few times a year. A baseball season is over 150 games. A school year is (roughly) 180 days. I'd like to think that some sort of daily data collection would give you a better idea of what is happening in a classroom. What would you put on your scorecard?

There is, of course, the question of how the data would be used. And I would guess this is the number one reason why no one is asking what we could collect. Instead of the Dance of the Lemons at the end of each school year, what if school/grade/subject assignment was based on what the needs of a school were and how your strengths supported that? What if you could focus on what you do best instead of trying to do everything?

I'm still pondering my own answers to these questions. It's more thought experiment than realistic pursuit. In an age when more and more people collect personal data about themselves, I think it's only a matter of time before we start seeing teachers take control of their own data about their work.

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