‘Moneyballing’ Education

Education writer Andrew Rotherham speculated in Time this week about the current data analysis “trend” that is sweeping the education reform movement.  He reflects on Michael Lewis’ 2003 book Moneyball, which “traces the rise of new methods that the Oakland A’s used to identify undervalued baseball players so the team could win more games with a smaller payroll.”  It worked for baseball—could this be the new approach to education reform?  Rotherham sees some problems with this strategy.

He identifies the lack of high-quality data as one strike against relying on a quantitative methodology.  He asserts that good teaching can be measured, but in many states’ accuracy standards are lax and unaudited.  Many states also have data systems that are inadequate or underutilized—only 35 states are able to link student data to teacher data, but most of them don’t due to political pressure.

Another strike is the lack of common definitions of “really fundamental things,” such as what it means to be a “teacher of record,” or what “proficiency” encompasses.  Rotherham also asserts that “evidence in education is still BYOB (Bring Your Own Bluster).”  He argues that research standards are often misunderstood or ignored, and there is no consensus about what is important or what matters when it comes to student learning.  This leads to a series of “fads” in policy and practice that lead to a “hodgepodge of state standards and tests.”

Though there are great schools that have overcome these challenges to harness and use data effectively, Rotherham feels that improving the quality of data available and the underlying culture of data and evidence in education is “key to creating an environment where Moneyball-like tools can make a broad difference across our school system, not just in isolated pockets.”  However, we can’t put all of our reliance on technology—the data must be balanced by human judgment.  Administrators and decision-makers will still need to do their jobs and be trained to use the data effectively.

He stresses that the goal is a “system that is genuinely customized and differentiated for students.  But to get there, the education world needs to learn to hit singles before we can expect to hit a home run.”

To read the full article, please visit http://ideas.time.com/2011/10/14/can-education-be-moneyballed/