What Can Other Professions Teach Us about Evaluation and Accountability in Education?

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What Can Other Professions Teach Us about Evaluation and Accountability in Education?

In a very productive exchange, Dean Millot and Corey Bower have been contemplating the professional status of education. Dean's most recent post, "Why Legally Recognized Professionalism is Necessary to Reasonable Teacher Accountability," is one of the best think pieces I've read in some time. Read the whole thing, but here's the central theme of the post:

Lawyers and doctors are not punished for undesired outcomes; they are accountable for doing what professionals should do given their client’s circumstances....As a legally recognized profession, teacher conduct would be judged by teachers, according to standards of educational care devised by teachers, applied to the client circumstances in question.

Dean's post links well with AEFA conference talks by Randi Weingarten and Richard Rothstein last weekend. Weingarten also drew on the medical metaphor to argue that "teachers are physicians of the mind." In her view, there is a difference between the most skilled physician and a miracle worker. Just as the best hospitals can't solve public health crises on their own, Weingarten argued that, "schools cannot beat back all personal, social, and economic challenges that kids have." In an op-ed last week, she also endorsed a professional standard similar to that proposed by Dean:

[Teachers] should be assessed on how they use test scores and other data to adjust their teaching to help students improve....The approach is akin to judging doctors on how they use the results of blood tests, X-rays, and the like to prescribe a course of treatment.

In his talk, Rothstein drew on the experience of more fields than I can name (business, medicine, public works, etc). Despite many leaders' calls for education to mimic the private sector, Rothstein's review concluded that "private sector performance incentives rely primarily on subjective evaluations, not easily corrupted quantitative measurements." The central theme of the talk was that systems of measurement distort the processes they are intended to measure. The paper on which the talk is based - "Holding Accountability to Account: How Scholarship and Experience in Other Fields Inform Exploration of Performance Incentives in Education" - is a comparative/historical tour de force, and a must read if you're interested in the evaluation question.

Blog posts without positions generally fall on their face, but I still have more questions than answers about Dean's proposal. Here are the two questions I'm pondering:

* How do the processes of diagnosis, inference, and treatment in education differ from those in medicine and law, and what are the implications of these differences for "professional accountability?"

* How does the state of our knowledge about educational diagnosis and treatment differ from that in other professions?

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