Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Garbage in, garbage out

Image shamelessly stolen from Wonkette

Is the problem here with the grading system?  Or with the concept of gradings schools at all?

Did Tony Bennett react to bad news that might embarrass a major GOP donor?  Or did he react to bad news that might embarrass him?  Was the "C" grade first calculated for Christel De Haan's school an error, a failure of the grading system, or a true reflection of the status of the school?

These are not simple questions, but they are in danger of getting simple answers.  Everybody knows you earn the grade you earn, right?  Except in English; or art; or maybe history, if you wrote an essay.  In science and math it's all about hard data, right?  So what's there to quibble over?  Grading schools is all about assessing hard data, the same way we grade students as if they were machines capable of only one output.  Amirite?  And if we can grade students fairly and accurately (yeah, right!), we can grade schools fairly and accurately.  Right?  I mean, it's objective and truthy, isn't it?

Sarcasm aside, these are deep questions.  Did Tony Bennett stupidly leave an e-mail trail indicating he was as crooked as a dog's hind leg, and concerned only with what would happen to a major GOP donor?  Or had he staked his reputation and his work on a system he thought would produce a guaranteed outcome, and when it didn't produce the outcome he had guaranteed, he figured the system just needed to be slapped on the top a few times, like the old tube-run TeeVees?

I really think the problem here is not the personal corruption of Tony Bennett (if any).  I think the problem here is the corruption of understanding; it's the expectation that a system can be set up which will do the work for us; that we can reliably "grade" schools and know which are good and which are bad, and so be sure our children is learning.

The school district I live in used to put the rankings of its schools by the Texas Education Agency on the buildings of the schools with the best rankings.  There were four categories: exemplary, recognized, academically acceptable, and academically unacceptable.  The school board decided to stop putting "Exemplary" and "Recognized" on schools that got those ratings because they lost some faith in the ratings themselves.  Is an "exemplary school" really doing better than a school that is "academically acceptable"?  Did it really tell the public anything about those schools?  The school board decided that it wasn't; that the system of assessment itself (which the State still carries on, regardless) was suspect, and its outcomes not to be relied on.

Some schools suck.  An entire school district in the Houston area was recently shut down by the State, it was doing such a terrible job.  But can we rely on grading systems to tell us what to do?  Tony Bennett thought so, until he didn't think so.  I still wonder:  did he react because he was about to be embarrassed?  Or because the system he had championed wasn't working?  Was he the designer of a new car, about to be proven wrong about his design?  Or was he the victim of mechanics who didn't know how to properly prepare his new car for the track?

Or was he just a corrupt weasel?  So many questions, so few people asking them.....

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