What if we assess our schools/kids/teachers like Golf?

I love sports. I love hoops, football, baseball, boxing, soccer, hockey, tennis and so on. And when I mean "and so on", I mean, I can watch table tennis, badminton, lacrosse, rugby and golf.

Yep, I can watch golf.

But I only like to watch when there is level competition. If a game is a blowout, it's off. If a team has a 35 point lead heading into the 4rth quarter, a 3 goal lead late into the second half, an 11 run lead in the bottom of the seventh, I am usually gone. Got other things to do and if I miss the comeback of the century I'll catch the highlights on ESPN.

See, for me, there is no pleasure in watching sports when there is no element of a fair, heated competition between the players. If there is extreme competition though, the kind that calls on all opponents to reach deep down to give their best, I am all with it.

So, here's an idea... what if we handicap our much discussed upcoming teacher/student/school evaluations like we do the game of golf? I mean we all realize that some schools have such a built in advantage before we ever tee up the school year that if we simply go head up (as we currently are), our score vs score comparison is going to make the competition a blowout.

So unexpected, too, right?

Almost without fail the upper-socioeconomic educational institutions in the U.S. are kicking butt and taking names. And despite the occasional "feel-good" anomaly (the kind which I strive to create in my own classroom), the low socio-economic schools are getting trounced.

But if we take into account mitigating factors such as English Language Learners, students living at or below the poverty level, degree of transience in the student body, special ed populations, and so on, suddenly there might be a way to really get a true glimpse into which teachers/schools/kids are really making strides.

Of course, from this point on, it's all conjecture and academic with little need for me to draw up the "how we can do this" because, though I am no cynic, I see almost no way in the world whereby the parents who send their kids to schools like Beverly Hills High are ever going to allow a system of data to be implemented whereby the kids at inner-city schools like mine at Lynwood High will be able to actually outperform them.

Not when they pay those kind of property taxes, live in those kind of houses and support political candidates with those kind of fundraisers.

Nope, not a cynic... but not a naif either. Those parents would have heads a rollin' if they saw their weighted test scores in the newspaper showing them to be getting whooped like a Greek mule on Crete during high tourist season.

Yet, to handicap the competition would level it out? Or would it?

See, now I don't know. On one hand I think yep, applying a true growth model whereby we use baseline measures and then end-of-year evaluations to the data in order to show true achievement over the course of the year makes a lot of sense. But if we take mitigating factors like poor academic history, non-English speaking homes, lack of internet access, ability to hire private tutors to remediate under-performance, and so on into account (there's gotta be a mathematic formula for this, right?) then, on one hand we are creating a level playing field whereby my kids can go up against any kids in the country. (And we'd LOVE to do that!) Yet, by handicapping our schools accordingly are we sending a mixed message?

Or even a wrong one?

Are we saying that "since you come from less, we expect less"?(And are therefore "lesser"?) See that troubles me deeply.

In my own class in Los Angeles, I tell my kids "no excuses" and we work to beat the metaphorical Beverly Hills High kids from day 1... cause I know that's how the real world works.

But when I see my school get the "data" back from the state, I realize that to not take into account mitigating circumstances such as all the urban challenges we face, I realize, we've been set up for slaughter like a junior league baseball team taking on the New York Yankees.

Sure, the Yankees may give up a game now and then, but over the course of a season, the Yankees are gonna absolutely steamroll the junior leaguers time and time again.

And if I am the Yankees, I am not sure where the fun is in that. Yankees want to play the Red Sox. Ali wants to fight Frazier. The USC Trojans wants to kick Notre Dame's butt... not Akron Community College's butt.

At the end of the day, golf is ultimately a game you play against yourself and the course. You can only control what you can control -- your own effort, preparation, practice time and so on. But if it rains, there's wind, someone plays at 8 am when there's no wind and another person tees off at 3:p.m. when a tsunami-like gusts are howling... what can you do?

You play the round that is on front of you. Some schools have kids where 98% of the parents went to college. And some have an 18% parent attended college ration... complicated by high truancy numbers and less resources cause there's no real PTA out there raising a few hundred grand a year to make sure that the arts haven't been killed off for their kids.

Yet the thing for all players to remember is, you gotta remember to love the game. Otherwise, you'll never be the best you can.

Views: 22

Comment by Sean Conner on July 30, 2009 at 11:00am
Interesting post.

I thought you were going to go in a different direction after reading the title. I've always been amazed that golfers keep their own score, call penalties on themselves, and play against the course rather than the other golfers. As the principal of one of those "upper-socioeconomic educational institutions," I find it necessary to find other ways to determine if we are truly challenging our students to be all that they can be - the fact is that, as a school, our State scores will always look good by comparison, but that does not really tell us the whole story.
Until we educators find a way to challenge each individual student (Blue tees, White Tees, Gold Tees, or Red ones?), or to encourage each child to take ownership of her learning and assess her own progress (keep her own score on an honor system), we're going to suffer in our comparison with golf. As far as school performance comparison is concerned, it would be a shame if Turnberry were expected to grow azaleas, and cultivate lush, green, thick rough just because one finds it at Augusta. The Masters and the British Open are different challenges. Tom Watson does not consider himself a failure because he can no longer compete on the longer course where the ball doesn't run. Schools, though we're often asked to, shouldn't be comparing their performances with one another. They should play against the course, not one another!
Comment by Alan Sitomer on July 30, 2009 at 11:05am
Great response... and finding ways to challenge all kids to be their best (and not just an arbitrary label of "proficient" as determined by a faceless government organization) certainly is thinking I like lots.


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