Wednesday, December 28, 2011


MAYBE I’M LATE TO THE PARTY, but I just read Michael Lewis’s book Moneyball. It came to me as a Christmas gift. Ostensibly about a low-budget baseball team out performing its available revenue, it is really about the use of data to drive success. Baseball is at once a beautifully simple game – hit, run, throw, catch – and a team sport driven by statistics: batting average, runs batted in, earned run average, slugging percentage. The mind-numbing list goes on and on.

Lewis suggests that success can be predicted when all but the most important data is thrown aside. At least that’s what Oakland Athletics front office folks figured out.

SO WHAT? For the longest time, we, as educators, didn’t give a crap about data. In fact, when asked about numeric proof, we gave every indication that we were threatened by data. We found comfort in defining success as doing what we’d always done, eschewing numbers. When asked for a measure of success, we couldn’t pinpoint anything because we relied upon how happy our students were, how content our parents were, and how the school community expectation was that younger sibling would get exactly the same thing that older sibling got. In essence, as a former superintendent aptly put it: “We weren’t teachers with twenty years experience; we were teachers who taught one year twenty times over.”

Critics of schools justifiably looked at world-wide performance in math and literacy - comparing us to them - then, like the man in Tiananmen Square a few decades ago, stood in front of our line of tanks and said, essentially: “Wait a minute.”

Educational leaders, legislators, and the publishing houses that found they could make a dime off of this discord immediately jumped on a bandwagon of testing each and every thing a kid was supposed to know. This will have proven to be a necessary step, but one with enormous costs in terms of instructional time, one which yields rafts of statistics, but few of which are of actual value.

THE TASKS BEFORE us as educators are to:
  1. specifically determine which data from which assessments measures success, and then 
  2. focus on curriculum content and instructional strategies that contribute to the necessary and desired measurable student performance.

Does that invite us to teach to a more limited test?*

Absolutely not. We must demand of ourselves that all students receive a broad curriculum grounded in knowledge but richly steeped in problem solving, critical thinking and creativity. Evidence of our success will appear as student performance beyond simply the Scantron sheet.

Great! That means we can bag interim assessments and annual tests, right?

Wrong. What is means is that we make professional decisions about our assessments based on the select data that we know will serve as predictor of success later on in the student’s academic progression and ultimately in the student’s life.

Job one is to identify assessments that don’t lend themselves to this task and see that they receive less of our time, and less of our attention. Perhaps, some just need to be thrown aside.

The immediate result? More time to actually teach.



* Shame on us for having been cowed into “teaching to the test.” When we teach the curriculum kids’ll do well on the test; when we teach to the test, they’ll miss out on huge swaths of curriculum and we are guilty of malfeasance.


Lewis, Michael: Moneyball. New York: W. W. Norton and Company. 2004.

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press


  1. I always enjoy your writing. This one especially because the idea of a test measuring a student's worth is not enough. It is not a simple matter of remembering what was taught, but rather how is this test going to help me in the real world today. It is my opinion that all tests were nothing but validation of the teacher's worth not the student. There is a study out there that the higher the education the more the person forget when they reach their senior years.
    Where has our education truly fail us? Teaching us real world education that we can use in our every day lives. I see a future where technical skills are lost in this country because we are too concerned with Higher Education. That is why companies are in scramble to find people who have real technical skills as well as higher education. Teach me a skill and I can feed myself. Didn't Jesus say to us, teach a person how to fish and they can feed themselves. I may have gotten that wrong, but I think you got my drift.

  2. Why yes, I did.

    The fellow that tunes my BMW motorcycle makes more money per hour than a current first-year teacher.

    What's that tell us?