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May 12, 2011


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John Dunn

A very damaging old chestnut:

One often hears that "A school should be run like a business." However, a school is not a business, it's a school.

If in a business you have a disruptive employee, someone who acts against the best interests of his/her own self and other persons (employees) in that business, that troublesome employee can be terminated.

The profit motive will demand it.

If in a classroom, you have a disruptive student, someone who acts against the best interests of his/her own self and other persons (classmates) in that classroom, that troublesome student can NOT be terminated.

Instead, it is demanded of the teacher to somehow deal with that person while at the same time, teaching everyone to some high standard.

No profit motive is involved.

John Dunn

Another destructive old chestnut:

"You can't control what you can't measure."

In a business, you can measure productivity in many ways. You can tally up how many new accounts did this or that salesman land this year, how many new products got developed this year, how much profit did the business make this year and so forth. With plenty of measurements, you can guide your business decisions and at least have a chance of control.

In a school however, if you seek to measure a teacher's performance with a tally of the grades of a teacher's class, the numbers you get may not be accurate measures of the teacher's "merit".

I have often seen my own wife having two classes in the same subject, with one class having very high grades and making all kinds of marvelous achievements including "golden key" awards while the other class gets lower grades with every lesson being a struggle for control of the room. This is with having the same course material, the same curriculum, the same lessons, the same daily schedule, the same classroom resources, the same teacher and yet there are two widely differing sets of results.

Similar variability is also often seen from term to term, from year to year. So, why is that so??

The answer is that no matter how skilled, how well trained, how perceptive, how astute, how insightful, how competent any teacher is, the teacher's traits or "merit" are only part of what yields the student performance results. With a classroom of all cooperative students, results will very likely be sterling, but get just one difficult student in there, one student who won't shut-up during a lecture, one student who won't stay in his/her seat and there will be some detrimental effect on the entire student body of that class. Get several like that and the classroom situation can very easily be dragged down to mediocrity.

That part of the situation will be reflected in test scores, but the scores do not have anything in them that can be separated out by analysis as a gauge of teacher "merit".

Sadly, I have had the unhappy experience of interviewing some new college grads for entry level engineering positions whose test scores and grade point averages were stellar and yet they all knew absolutely nothing about electricity, let alone electronics. Four individuals I interviewed literally didn't understand the circuit of a flashlight and no, I am not exaggerating. I was utterly horrified.

With them, there was plenty of measurement, but there was clearly no control.

Jim Anderson

I had a similar experience with a co-worker with a recent BS in electrical engineering who did not know that magnet wire had to have insulation!

Don  Brant

When I worked at a major New Jersey aerospace firm, we had a summer intern, a PhD candidate from a well-respected New England technological institute, who asked me, a technician at the time, "Do you have any of that shiny silver stuff you melt on the wires, or do you just melt the wires together?" Frightening lack of practical knowledge.

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