Shine the light on “educated,” Part 1

Last year I listened to teachers and administrators talk about programs in their schools, districts, and colleges. Throughout meetings and discussions, educators said things like, “Students need to:

  1. graduate ready for college and career.”
  2. score well on tests.”
  3. develop emotional intelligence.”
  4. conduct themselves properly.”
  5. score higher on tests.”
  6. follow classroom rules.”
  7. think critically.”
  8. become citizens of the 21st-Century.”
  9. use digital technology to problem solve and create.”
  10. develop self-confidence.”

And the list could go on. We want students to be able to do all these things, but we have no unifying philosophical ideal as the foundation that links institutions of education to what we want for our children and society. In other words, failing to define what it means to be educated, educators point to indicators or descriptions of what it means to be educated. Look at the 10-item list. All are worthy goals. But there is no unifying philosophical foundation. What we lack is a definition of what it means to be “educated” in the ideal sense.

Without a unifying philosophical ideal, descriptions of what it means to be educated span an enormous range. One result of insisting on an infinite range of desired outcomes is that we are unable to assess the effectiveness of the programs designed to achieve all those outcomes. That failure was the dominant lament of educators last year. Over and over they said the main shortcoming of educators is the failure to evaluate the effectiveness of their educational programming in schools, districts, and colleges.

Hearing these laments over the last several months has made me wonder, “Why is evaluating program effectiveness so important?” And let’s be clear. We are not talking about the common sense evaluation approach used by athletic coaches — observing player behavior, looking at outcomes, and then using judgment to direct players to perform in ways that will yield more points for their team and fewer points for the other team. No — in this age of data-driven instruction and program evaluation, educators insist on formal program evaluations that start with instruments that yield valid, reliable data. Teacher/administrator judgment is regarded as inadequate. No matter how insightful their observations might be. According to professor-types, K-12 educator judgments are disdained as mere observations, anecdotes or examples. Their value is minuscule compared to statistically significant findings of formal program evaluations.

In the next blog I examine what happens when K-12 educators reject this  approach that is the sister of the social science improvement paradigm. I explore what could happen if K-12 educators replaced an infinite set of  desired outcomes with a unifying definition of what it means to be educated.


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