Tuesday, April 22, 2008

One criteria is not enough

More from Scott Adams. This time, he proposes a rating system for movies to help him identify movies he might like. He has 11 different criteria, and that's just for a 1-3 hour experience. Don't we need at least that much to figure out what is going on in schools?

Mr. Adams criteria are impressive. Shape of story arc, star power, mumbling quotient, bladder, artistry, sadism, originality, incomprehensibility, humor, scariness, suspense. All but the first on on a ten point scale, whereas story arc is a series of high/medium/lows. 

It's important to note that he does not suggest adding all these up. Rather, together they give profile of a film, so that people with different tastes -- or perhaps we can think about it as 'needs' -- can find what they are looking for.

Unfortunately, our current paradigm in education calls for a single rating for each school. Under NCLB, it is the simplest possible rating: yes/no. Either a school is making all the progress it is supposed to making, or it is not. In New York City, we have a wider set of criteria, but it is still reduced to a single rating, A-F. 

If I were to design a system to describe schools, I would never reduce it to a single rating; schools do too many different things. There's teaching basic skills and complex thinking. There's teaching analytical problem solving and teaching open-ended creativity. There's working with average children, special education student and the gifted. There are academic issues, and non-academic (e.g. teamwork, perseverance, work ethic). All of these are important, but not equally important to every parent -- perhaps not equally important to every community. Reducing measures of schools to a single measures loses that detail that parents want to know about.

Moreover, losing that detail equates schools that do many things extraordinarily at the expense of doing some terrible with with schools that do everything well but nothing extraordinarily. To put that another way, is a C average a result of a bunch of individual C's, or is it a result of a mixture of A's and F's? 

How do we judge schools, or those who work in them, with just a single composite measure? If Mr. Adams can even jokingly suggest that he needs a dozen criteria to understand a movie, shouldn't we need even more for a school?

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