Wednesday, February 29, 2012

For What Purpose?

     Recently there has been a great deal of press about the recent releasing of the ratings and/or rankings of New York City teachers. I’m sure that whoever decided to do this can articulate some very sound reasons, most of them having to do with accountability and transparency.
     But it’s a bad idea. In fact, I saw one headline that even Bill Gates, one of the loudest advocates of extensive and open teacher evaluation, disagrees with the move. I don’t know his exact reasons.
      I suspect release of this information will foment far more consternation than it will add any value. I could give you all sorts of arguments, most of which I’ve presented in more depth at other times throughout the course of this blog. So I won’t launch into an extensive manifesto about the limits of educational data, the problems with the instruments, how what truly matters can’t be measured, et cetera. These reasons are all legitimate, but I believe that the issue is something much more basic.
      I don’t believe very much consensus exists on the value and purpose of education. And I don’t know that there ever will be. In trying to force together that puzzle, we have to grapple with two difficult questions and try to reach simple answers. What is the purpose of school? What should be the purpose of school? Ideally, the answers would match. In reality…
      How would you answer those questions?


Joel Backon said...

Great post, Mark! It's hard to define the purpose of education today because there is no agreement on the topic, other providing some form of preparation to kids. The type of preparation that is and should be occurring in our schools is a subject of debate. One hundred years ago, there was no disagreement about the purpose of education, only who should be educated. Today there is no debate about who should be educated, but how and why. Notice how government and school administrations in public education have abdicated responsibility for solving the problem except to shift the responsibility to teachers and fine-tune meaningless tests. New York City is the poster child for these practices.

Mark Crotty said...

Thanks, Joel. I agree with everyting that you say, but I would add that we have the same problem in our world of independent schools. No matter how much we point to mission, so much of the verbiage lends itself to widely varying interpretations that depend on what one values and wants. For example, just what does "academic excellence" mean anyway? And how the heck are you going to quantify that it's happening?