Many will acknowledge that while we may not measure what’s important, the important thing becomes what we measure. Why? It keeps us exclusively focused on what in-practice we (often tacitly come to) value.
The attachment to—even obsession with—our measures or metrics has led to a disregard for the real and meaningful purpose of education. In so doing what we’ve forgotten is the fact that our measured results, to which we give unbridled importance, are just re-presentations of the effects of a system; they are mere abstractions of the concrete learning experience.
So with this blind focus of attention we are actually equating, and thus limiting, education to being an abstraction and expunging the concrete experience of learning from the system. When getting results is what matters—good grades, higher test scores—learning becomes the least of people’s concern. Hence the concern in regards to education is not about whether it is a meaningful and humanly productive experience, but whether we get better test scores. The (human) meaning of education is lost in the process, making it quite alien to both students and teachers.
Shameful But Not Shocking
In regards to the cheating scandals in school districts throughout the country, we are seeing the effects of management-by-the-numbers—mismanagement—unfold before our eyes. If one had knowledge of systems and their influence upon people’s behavior, this cheating would have been predicted and thus avoided. Of course, to those absent of this knowledge it is a surprise. Given the number of districts in which cheating has been uncovered, what we have is a systemic management problem not a teacher problem—the cheating teachers are just a symptom!
Systems thinking informs us that we can’t do just one thing; that there are multiple and unintended consequences to a single decision and that the associated actions will reverberate throughout the system. However most administrators/managers are not knowledgeable about systems so they don’t understand the dynamically complex nature of the system over which they exercise their authority. In short, they don’t critically think, they just do!
It is far easier to shift the blame and the burden by turning attention away from what the system is doing—and the system is management’s responsibility—toward what the teacher is doing. Holding teachers accountable for results uses fear of reprimand (the prospect of losing their livelihood) to get them to deliver what their administration wants—in this case higher test scores. Yet the teachers can only do what the system allows!
Predictably to deliver higher test scores—since the system does not support quality improvement—all that teachers could do is either fudge the numbers or rig the system (if they have the power to, which they didn’t) to deliver what is demanded. Not surprisingly, all they could do is fudge the numbers to give the (false) impression that the desired results were being realized.
If the education system was not designed to produce the results that it was producing then we wouldn’t consistently get the results we were getting! Yet again and again the focus of the reformers and administrators is on the teacher delivering higher test scores, not the quality of the system itself.
In regards to this cheating, those in authority are complicit; they are aiding and abetting it. We must cease creating these problems by presenting teachers with unsolvable dilemmas.
What needs to be done is educate the reformers and administrators about quality and the way to improve it.