Sunday, January 16, 2011

Measurable Outcomes

Here is a guest post by Iamcompucomp who is the creator of some very cool YouTube videos based on today's test & punish accountability policies and the drive to privatize public education.

Measurable Outcomes

By Iamcompucomp

Whether people realize it or not, every time they open their mouths about measurable outcomes they sell a chunk of public education. I say this because both measurement and outcomes based learning are key levers of corporate reform around the globe right now. Measurability is the focus on collection of data. And data means that whatever is measured will be governed by hard numbers and computers. This makes learning into something objective, scientific, and quantifiable. 

It is a product. 

The art of teaching is replaced by the science of quality assurance. “Outcomes-based” means a focus on “results” or bottom lines. The end justifies the means. Tony Blair popularized this conception with the slogan “whatever works” as his education reforms intensified Thatcher’s drive for privatization.

But would you really want to raise your own child employing such a Machiavellian approach?

If telling your kid there’s a monster under the bed “works” to get him or her to stay there, is it justified? Is paying your kid to score goals in hockey? This is not very different from the increasingly common practices in the US of paying bonuses to teachers whose students do well on tests, and paying direct bonuses to students who improve their scores. 

The real message that is sent: it doesn’t matter “how” you get there as long is you win. This is a belief that cuts to the core of the US business culture at the moment, as symbolized by the ethical problems which plague Wall Street these days. It is also seen in steroid use at the highest level of most sports. Education is becoming very much a quest for new steroids to raise student performance, without regard for side effects on kids’ lives, such as the fact that it is making them neurotically dependent on others’ appraisal of their self worth.

Once you make schools objective, scientific, and quantifiable, it is easier to make it into a product which companies can sell to parents and students. Indeed, highly privatized charter schools in the US and the UK bid for public service contracts on the basis of their promise to produce “measurable outcomes” in terms of test scores and graduation rates. The public schools are constantly depicted as “failing” in order to allow the charters to move in and offer enhanced performance at competitive costs.

As a “philosophy” of education, today’s obsession with “measurable outcomes” is about as theoretically sound as an advertising jingle. It has no academic credibility outside of corporate sponsored research. “Measurable outcomes’ is a pedagogy cooked up by the likes of the Gates Foundation, one the globe’s biggest charter backers, and privatized education product and service providers, in order to make education “about” things which can be standardized, measured, computerized and delivered for a profit.

The fact that kids really don’t learn in terms of measurable outcomes and that schools can often be remarkably effective, just as can parents, without measuring outcomes at all, doesn’t really bother those who want to privatize education. The quantification of education is the key to the transfer of all power and authority from those who have the public good at heart and want democratic control through such things as school boards, to those who are motivated by private gain, and want to “save the taxpayer money” by getting rid of boards and opening the system for competition to win parents, students and funding.

Let me conclude by saying that what is taught in school is very similar in many regards to what is parented at home. As a parent you are likely the most important teacher your child will ever have. Do you believe that your parenting could be improved with data? Is the most important learning your child doing “measurable”? Would you do a better job of parenting if you received more money or points for raising a better child? Do you think your kid would have learned to ride a bike any faster if you’d warned them they were going to be tested by you on it? Perhaps imagining this will enable you to understand better why most experienced teachers are opposed to high-stakes, standardized testing and the “measurable outcomes” game.


  1. I have just listened to a Ted lecture - Barry Schwartz

    I think he puts it well that the ultimate causality is the intuitive wisdom and the soul of teachers , children and others when measurable outcomes are the objectives of policy makers. In order to achieve this we need rules, incentives and destroying the intuitive wisdom, individuality and souls of people.


  2. Allan, I watched that video just the other day. It's very good. I have a post coming on it soon.

  3. Hi Joe,

    I definitely respect your perspective, and I see truth in it. I agree with your sentiment.

    I would disagree, however, that focusing on measurable outcomes implies an ignorance of process (the "how"). I'm a first grade teacher in a charter school, and although we do use standardized tests to measure skills, we teach well beyond the bounds of those tests. Of course, were that not the case, it would be a problem. No tests measure citizenship of students, but that is where the heart and soul and intuitive wisdom of the teacher reside.

    Finally, I would just sign off with a quote:

    “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.” - General George S. Patton

  4. Thanks Joe
    Interested in your take on use of emerging learning analyticals, big data mining, profiling etc #LAK11.

    I have grave concerns for academic credibility being bought by foundation money to say it's 'correct'

  5. Here's a really strange exercise... ask students what an A means, what a B means, etc. You'll get some not-so-surprising results. From A=$50, B=$20 to A=Excellent, to A=not being in trouble. No one seems to have a definition of really what it is anymore. So, other than being detrimental to learning (as so eloquently stated by your article), and funding a student's allowance, what is their purpose?


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