What can be measured can be managed. Does it apply to education and can it be managed well? | www.ajc.com
What can be measured can be managed. Does it apply to education and can it be managed well?


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What can be measured can be managed. Does it apply to education and can it be managed well?

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Here is an essay by University of Georgia professer Peter Smagorinsky.

 By Peter Smagorinsky

Catapult is an Australian sports analytics company that is used by a host of athletics teams around the world. Their  client list  includes the Dallas Cowboys, North Carolina Tar Heels, Japanese Rowing team, and over 300 other teams and organizations that are looking to maximize their competitors’ performances.

The company uses athlete tracking technology that provides data on athletes’ performances. These small GPS devices can be attached to athletic gear, where they can measure, to a fine degree, such aspects of performance as acceleration, force, speed, and other factors that contribute to an athlete’s movements.

 Data collected through these devices can then identify a specific athlete’s strengths and weaknesses. On their website, Catapult claims, “WHAT CAN BE MEASURED, CAN BE MANAGED.”

They say that coaches may “objectively know players are in optimal condition going in to games by monitoring training load and determining who isn’t working hard enough [and] use the data to compare players, sessions, weeks and sessions to know what works for your program.” 

When I began reading about this company, my thoughts turned to another type of assessment, that of students in schools; and by implication, that of their teachers. Claims similar to those made by the Catapult engineers are made on behalf of the standardized tests administered to kids in school, beginning in first grade and in some cases in kindergarten or preschool.

The tests, claim their advocates, can precisely identify areas of strength and weakness, inform teachers about areas that require instructional emphasis, point out which student is working hard and which is not, expose teachers who are not preparing students rigorously, and provide objective measures of competence and achievement.

 Those who endorse this view believe that measuring performance in school is as simple and direct as measuring performance in athletics: We have the tests, we have their measurements, and we know what to work on. It’s up to teachers then to improve students’ deficiencies so that they compete at a higher level. I wish it were that easy. I wish that the diagnosis of school performance could be simplified so that we all agreed on what to achieve and how to do it.

Unfortunately, it’s not quite so straightforward and uncomplicated.

As the client list suggests, Catapult works only with the world’s most outstanding athletes, from the New York Knicks to the Leinster Rugby team. Their diagnostics can’t get Carmelo Anthony to get back on defense, but if he chose to do so, they could probably help him do so faster.

If schools only had to teach the top .1% of students, they could work at a much higher level. But teachers also have to help the least school-ready kids find a reason to go to school, and to get their attention once they’re in the building. Coaches can cut those kids from their teams and never look back; teachers are expected to get them up to the levels of the highest performers, or else be judged incompetent.

 Second, competitive sports have a clear, unambiguous purpose: To win. I played organized sports from about ages 8-20, and have coached basketball, track, and baseball in schools and youth leagues, and winning games has been the goal in every case. Not every team plays the same style, and not every style suits every player. But everybody’s in it to win it.

 Having a shared goal, achieved in most sports through teamwork, enables an analytics company to narrow their measurements to what is most likely to produce a winning effort among elite athletes who have volunteered to participate. The purpose of school, however, varies depending on whom you ask. Schools might value independent thinkers or docile workers. They might view the ideal student as one who conforms to local traditions or one who questions the status quo. They might have some kids who go to college, some who enter the military, some to go to trade schools, some who enter the workforce, some who get married and begin families, some who compete in sports, and so on.

 Schools do not have the singular motive that sports teams all share, nor do they have the same destination available to all students. Students who aspire to attend elite universities and students who are hanging in there until they’re legally allowed to drop out and work do not embrace the same values. One student may read for pleasure, another for information, another to escape, another to qualify for additional learning opportunities. Standardized tests assume standardized goals, ignoring the vast variation in students’ purposes for and ways of learning.

Nor do schools have especially well-defined roles for students, as sports have for athletes. Offensive linemen and wide receivers are subjected to different measurements because their positions require different assignments and skills. But students all take the same “objective” tests as if each had been formed from the same mold.

 Finally, the tests employed by Catapult are regarded by practitioners—coaches and athletes—as measuring the right thing. That belief is shared by few teachers and students when it comes to standardized tests, which are administered under artificial conditions—in a large testing room—unlike the Catapult tests, which are conducted on the field of play during actual, authentic performance so as to make the measures as valid as possible.

 I think it’s great that sports analytics are now available to assist coaches in their diagnostic and instructional work with athletes. If these tools had been available back in my own sporting days, I’d have known more precisely just how slow I actually was. Applying those same principles to public education, however, misses the point of schooling, which might share the goal of helping participants reach their potential but does so with the understanding that students are headed in many different directions and therefore require more nuanced forms of evaluation.

Unfortunately, in sports as well as in education, what seems to matter most is how much money can be made off the enterprise, and as a nation we are increasingly impoverished by that misplaced value.