By Sam Chaltain, Special to CNN
With spring training under way, fantasy baseball owners across the country are hard at work readying their draft boards and preparing to select their championship rosters. As they do, I have a modest proposal to make that will simplify the whole process: Let’s stop getting weighed down by multiple data points, and start looking at just one number instead – the number of doubles a player hit the previous season.
Too simplistic a way to evaluate something as complex as a player’s overall value to your team? Hogwash. For example, look at last year’s stats and you’ll see that the Kansas City Royals’ Jeff Francoeur smacked almost 50 two-baggers. By contrast, some guy named Albert Pujols hit half as many. By my calculations, then, Francoeur must be twice as good.
Sounds simple enough – unless you know anything about baseball, and which of those two guys is the sure Hall of Famer who just signed a $254 million dollar contract (hint: it isn’t Francoeur). In fact, the only thing effective about drafting a fantasy baseball team this way is that it would effectively eliminate you from competition before the season starts. Yet this sort of magical thinking is exactly what’s happening in New York City right now, thanks to the city’s recent release of its own fantasy rankings based on how the students of 18,000 schoolteachers did on standardized reading and math exams.
Since the rankings were released on February 24, the New York Post has run personal profiles of the city’s “best” and “worst” teachers. The New York Times has run headlines suggesting the rankings are an accurate reflection of overall “teacher quality.” And the New York mayor has brushed off criticism by reminding us all that “no evaluation system is ever going to be perfect.”
I’m all for making sure the perfect doesn’t become the enemy of the good, but Mr. Bloomberg, are you serious? When exactly did we start thinking something as complex as teaching and learning can be reduced to a single number? And when exactly did (de)grading teachers surpass baseball to become the new national pastime?
But here’s the worst part: this story is making it harder for people to see the difference between two virtuous ends and one horribly destructive mean to get us there. For example, it’s clear in this new era of school choice that parents need better information at their disposal before deciding where to send their child for the next 12 years. It’s also clear that teachers need better information about their own performance in order to meaningfully improve the quality of their practice. If those are the goals, then how we get us there is equally clear: Identify the information, and align the evaluation systems, around what parents and teachers are both really seeking – not just students with basic literacy and numeracy skills, but young people with the knowledge and skills to use their voice, effectively and with integrity, in co-creating our common public world.
If that sounds like another form of magical thinking, consider this – it’s already happening. Since 1987, an organization called the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards has identified five core standards that outline the knowledge, skills, dispositions and beliefs of highly effective teachers. Each year, teachers from across the country voluntarily submit to a rigorous process of being certified by a board of their peers. The process is universally respected, thoughtful in its criteria, and the sort of balanced evaluation that makes it impossible to mistake the teaching equivalent of Jeff Francoeur for Albert Pujols.
So yes, let’s all demand that parents get the information they need to make better choices, and that teachers get the feedback they need to become better teachers. And let’s stop pretending that things like New York City’s teacher data reports are anything but a step in the wrong direction. We can do better.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Sam Chaltain.