The Risks of Quantification – A One-sided Approach
As a governmental enterprise, thanks to the Tenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution and the New Jersey State Constitution, public school education has always reflected the beliefs and interests of our elected officials. Our representative democracy provides for individuals in Trenton and Washington to design plans and create laws that shape and guide the way our public schools operate. This systematic approach is indeed necessary to avoid the chaos that inevitably thrives in societies without rules and boundaries.
Because public education is a cornerstone of our society, ills and troubles are often laid at the doorstep of our schools. Often criticized as ineffective, it certainly makes no sense to assign society’s biggest issues to any institution unless it truly is an effective one. As you well know, the public schools of New Jersey are far more effective than described. Indeed, as a public institution welcoming one and all, public school educators have great access, much influence and even greater responsibility for the care, cognitive growth and the character development of our students. To shape each generation of young people into well-educated and responsible members of society is perhaps our country’s greatest challenge. There is little doubt that the status of our Nation is completely dependent upon the viability and success of our public schools!
Long-time educators and those that closely follow changes in public school operation know very well of the cyclic nature of state and federal education initiatives. Without digressing to numerous examples, I want to comment on the current state of affairs. Presently, we are engaged in a program to assess the effectiveness of educators, both teachers and administrators. This, in my estimation, is an imperative. The program is based upon a variety of factors all of which can be reduced to numerical terms. A summative process that includes performance on SGO’s, the calculation of median SGP’s for certain content areas and the careful assessment of multiple observers through a calculated inter-rater reliability shape the final score for each individual. The system is much more complex than this description allows and is replete with many caveats. A given in this discussion is that teacher and principal effectiveness is at the heart of successful public schools. The quantification of the many factors that contribute to Best Practice in the field of teaching and learning is necessary and is not subject to debate in this commentary. This is not to imply agreement with the system as designed but merely to suggest that other quantifiable approaches may be less cumbersome, more responsive and timelier in feedback.
To the point of this message, I believe that in this rush to create a statistical design to govern this process of determining teacher and school effectiveness a major element is missing. I believe that the missing piece is not easily measured or reduced to numerical terms, thus absent from the equation. The component of which I reference has to do with quality. The quality of relationships between students and teachers opens the door of receptivity through which learning travels. The adage, “Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” comes quickly to mind. Each public school in New Jersey utilizes an approach to Character Education that is designed to shape student thinking and behavior. Our Codes of Conduct tie our core values to our rules and corrective action. Leadership opportunities for students through clubs and athletic endeavors shape understanding for life beyond public schools. The National Honor Society acknowledges the attributes embodied in the well-balanced individual and serves as a model for student behavior. Likewise, colleges and universities seek our school profiles and analyze student transcripts in search for the most well-rounded students.
Certainly I could share more examples of programs that schools provide, teachers direct and students benefit from, but my point is hopefully clear. The index of qualitative measurement, while at the very soul of product producers in the business sector, is conspicuously absent in the effectiveness formula utilized by the state. This is not to suggest that the quantification and statistical efforts of the state are wrong or to be discarded. Rather, I believe that the measurement of effectiveness needs re-balanced. In the fairest sense of the words “evaluation” and “assessment,” the process should determine the worth and value of whatever is being measured. The best, most authentic appraisal is the one that measures, not just the convenient, but the inconvenient as well. Perhaps Einstein offered the greatest wisdom on this conundrum with these words, “Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.” A context needs to be developed that will allow the incredibly important qualitative side of effectiveness to be factored into the formula.
The preferred future for public education will hopefully be a place where effective educators work on behalf of all of our students in an atmosphere of accountability. The designation of effectiveness in that future will be a reflection of both quantifiable and qualitative factors. I have the highest hopes that our questions, concerns and persistence will make this future a reality. Success is a Choice. As you continue to choose it, it will become a reality.
Please continue your great work on behalf of the children of New Jersey!