Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Accountability and Shane Battier

When you look at it from the right angle, everything relates to education. Take the article about basketball player Shane Battier from the February 13th issue of New York Times Magazine. On the surface, it seems like it's just about a basketball player. But I read it as an insightful commentary on the weaknesses of our standardized system of accountability and measuring success.

The Battier article is interesting if you're a fan of basketball. If not, I probably wouldn't recommend it. The gist of the article is this: while Shane Battier's statistics (points, rebounds, steals, assists, etc) aren't all that great, he does so many unmeasured things that make him a great team player. While the data on his individual achievement doesn't necessarily show it, he makes the teams he plays on much better and the teams he plays against much worse.

So now you know that you should appreciate Shane Battier much more the next time you watch the Houston Rockets play. But let's pivot and see how this affects education.

If we were to view points, rebounds, and all that as a standardized test score, Battier wouldn't be doing all that well. He probably wouldn't be meeting standards (certainly not for a starter) and it's unlikely he'd be showing much yearly progress. You might even go so far as to label him a failing player.

But we know from this article that Battier is a highly valued player and member of his team. If we based all of our judgements on his scores we would completely miss that.

This isn't to say that if you're looking for a player to draft out of college or trade for that you shouldn't be looking at things like points and rebounds. I am saying that you shouldn't base everything on a statistical line. Similarly, I don't know if we can look at schools, teachers, and students based solely on that line. There's too great a chance of missing something fundamental.

Speaking of things that over-rely on statistical data, Arne Duncan has said that he's open to renaming the No Child Left Behind Act. Almost immediately, Eduwonk opened a contest to re-name the law. It's definitely worth checking out. My favorite has to be: Double Back Around To Pick Up The Children We Left Behind Act.

UPDATE: Turns out this post had pretty much already been written by Matthew Ladner. Great minds ...

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