Friday, December 16, 2005

Learner outcomes 

One of the things we are doing at SCSU this year is getting ready for a re-accreditation year, and that means assessment efforts for our campus are being updated. To assess our courses correctly we need to know what we want our students to achieve in our courses and programs. These "learner outcomes" are written with the idea that they should be assessable.

I mention this not to write you a treatise on assessment -- which would be both dull and underinformed, since it's not my area of expertise -- but as prelude to this debate going on between the 'Right Brothers' of the PioneerPress and Education Minne$ota. It began when Mark Yost wrote last week about education officials' claim of underfunding and the data in Jay Greene's Education Myths. (Chad the Elder, Mitch and I interviewed Greene's co-author Marcus Winters last month on NARN.)

Quickly tell me: how much is school funding for pupil in K-12? Answer at bottom.

On an inflation adjusted basis, Yost points out, per pupil spending has risen fourfold while test scores have remained stagnant. Oh, but test scores don't measure success, you say! Well, how about we ask the National Association of Manufacturers, the people who give jobs to those graduates. What do they say? They say students need more math, science and basic employability skills � "the need for attendance, timeliness, and work ethic. " When asked whether K-12 schools are "doing a good job preparing students for the workplace", five out of six say no now, above the level in 1997. It's this, more than math and science or reading and writing, that they say students are lacking.

In answering a Westover column on Q-Comp's ineffectiveness in changing teacher incentives, letter writers blame the victim -- the students, and their parents.
I left teaching exactly because it wasn�t enough that my own behavior and performance were exemplary, which they were, may I add; I was evaluated on the performance of people whose behavior and performance I had little to no control over, namely, my students. I�m not talking about being evaluated for my pay (I was on the much-maligned seniority system, of course), I�m talking about being evaluated as a professional. I had no credibility in the public�s eye based on my own merits� all anybody seemed interested in was how my students did. I do not know of any other position in the Minnesota workplace where an individual is evaluated on the performance of *somebody else*! ... Business managers may be evaluated on the performance of their subordinates, but they have the power to hire and fire. Teachers don�t hire and fire their students.
They have the power to hire and fire, but their profit margins depend on having good, productive workers, and churning your labor force is seldom a recipe for success. Your training and search costs are too high. The NAM survey shows that what employers need to do with their employees is to change the culture of the workplace.
So how can U.S. manufacturers build high-performance cultures within their companies? Moving beyond traditional ways of motivating employees by implementing some of the engagement approaches discussed above is a start. But, culture is pervasive and often slow to change. Change can happen based on leadership�s ability to guide people toward new behaviors and actions, reinforce and reward those new behaviors until they are embedded in the culture, and measure progress toward those goals � both individually and as an organization. "What gets measured, gets done" and so it is for culture and behavior as well.
Craig's other letterwriter doesn't seem to have gotten that memo.
There is no respect, no fear and no retribution for the shit today that we label as students. Their motto (and their parents) "Give me instant gratification even though I have done nothing to earn it." A perfect example was today in my Concert Band dress rehearsal. After the second number....... I looked at them and asked "Are you proud of that?" Thank God it snowed and the concert was cancelled and we spared the public of another flogging of the ears.

Here's what I'd like to ask this music teacher -- what are you hoping to produce in your students? What are your learner outcomes? Businesses report that workers don't have a "work ethic", that they don't have pride. Asking them if they're proud of something is not an educational act. It is an attempt to shame when you haven't given them a reason to take pride. I don't care what the music sounds like if I don't teach appreciation. What we teach in basic economics is an appreciation of mundane things around you -- markets that work well are virtually invisible. Civilization should be proud of creating such markets, but asking someone if they're proud when they've not learned to "listen to markets", as it were, is pointless. This is the crime of failing to teach western civilization: an inability to appreciate how far at least one society has come, and how other societies have learned from it and shared in its discovery.

And in some sense I agree with teachers on one point: the folks who can best instill pride in students are their parents. Teachers have trouble working with kids who don't have these "employability skills" of attendance, timeliness and work ethic. They will take personal pride in their childrearing (maybe for those who don't we could reduce Social Security payments enough so that they might do so out of a need for self-preservation in old age.)

So why don't we give parents the tools to find those schools and those teachers who will help them build those skills in their children and students?

Why don't we give them a voucher?


Oh yeah, forgot the question: about $9000. Most people say $5000. From such misperceptions does Education Minne$ota make its raids on the public purse.