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January 16, 2017


I agree that Schutze's writing is strong, although I think he might be guilty of a bit of correlation/causation conflation. Someone looking to defend the "mediocrats" might point out that high incarceration rates and weak educational outcomes are both associated with (caused by?) environmental circumstances (poverty, lack of job opportunities, lack of role models, ...). In particular, in locations that rely heavily on property taxes for school funding, poverty may directly lead to underfunding of education.

That's not to say I disagree with him. I put some credence in the Druckerism that what gets measured gets improved ... not to mention that, as a tax payer, I'd like to get the biggest bang for my buck. A major sticking point is that measuring schools turns out to be a lot harder than one might think. The idea of measuring "value added" has some appeal, but it remains tricky. As one writer pointed out, if kids come to school hungry, they don't learn as well. A school might provide free lunches, but it can't do anything about breakfast and dinner.

The (plug: highly ranked) ed school at Michigan State U. has a blog, http://edwp.educ.msu.edu/green-and-write/, where school "grades" are a frequent topic. We can't just throw up our hands and say "too hard, can't do it" (a response we hopefully would not accept from the students), but getting it right is going to take a great deal of care and effort (and likely more than a few iterations).

Thanks for the comment! It's very true that poverty and underfunding of education are closely connected in the American model of relying on property taxes to fund schools. I also like your point about the lack of role models a lot.

When I studied in the French system, we laughed at the American passion for multi-choice quizzes in trying to measure everything. In France we were tested nationally twice: at the end of middle school and at the end of high school. And that was it. Also, our tests involved complex questions, which had to be graded by real people instead of machines. Those graders had to get paid. To have a good measurement system, you have to be willing to pay for it.

My case was a bit unusual since I was in a Lycee Francais abroad, so I spent my whole elementary and secondary education there, but all French high schools are measured by their results at the baccalaureat at the end of high school. Students at the end of middle schools give their preference for the high school they want to attend but they are assigned to a specific local high school. The stakes are particularly high in Paris, where high schools can be of very high quality in one place and of poor quality close-by.

Back in the days, I think the best students in Paris asked to learn Russian as first foreign language to be put in the good high schools that offered such classes. (I learned Russian because I was interested in it; again, I didn't have the same problem of risking to be put in a bad high school, since there was only one to choose from, but I remember having friends in Paris who had studied Russian for that reason.) I wonder how money for schools is allocated between each arrondissement in Paris. I'll have to research it!

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