Empty Pump

Last week, the governor of Alibam described its school system with a semi-profane term. In this Saturday’s Arab Tribune considerable space was devoted to local politicians and educationalists protesting. The politicians, in particular, used their skills at character assassination extensively.

As I read the article I kept asking myself how many people in the newspaper readership had any idea of what a tribune is.

I also reflected on the liner Titanic. The ship musicians, so far as I have read, gave an excellent performance while the ship was sinking. This probably saved some lives by calming but fundamentally it didn’t do anything to keep the ship from sinking.

If an educationalist tells me their system is doing well and a physician tells me it is failing, then I will trust the judgment of the physician over the educationalist.

Simply put, there are some things that an observer cannot reliably observe. Himself, for example. That’s basic quantum mechanics. If you’re part of the system, you can’t observe the system accurately and reliably.

That doesn’t mean that the members of the system aren’t doing their best. That’s the lesson of the Titanic’s musicians.

Along this line, some metrics aren’t meaningful. When you control how many students graduate, the fraction of each class that graduates is not a reliable metric. Reliable metrics have to be outside your system; they have to be defined by outsiders.

Let’s consider some such:

How many students of a given year group (fraction) have a college degree earned withing four years of attendance ten years after the year group’s graduation?

How many students of a given year group (fraction) earn more than twice their chronological age twenty years after the year group’s graduation?

How many students of a given year group graduate with a reading knowledge of two languages other than their milk tongue?

How many students of a given year group can derive the roots of a quadratic equation ten years after the year group’s graduation?

These are offered as examples only. But they do reflect that the metrics need to have some independence of the school system and they need to be things of endurance. We send children to school to learn part of what they need to be adults. If we fail at that, they likely will never be competent adults.

By that token, we cannot keep parenting by throwing our children over the fence to the educationalists. Likewise, the educationalists cannot be subjected to an absence of outside – non-educationalist – assessment and critique. And they have to embrace this oversight.