Wednesday, April 18, 2018

How 21st Century School Leaders Can Tell If They Are Infected with "Metric Fixation"

"Metric fixation is the seemingly irresistible pressure to measure performance, to publicize it, and to reward it, often in the face of evidence that this just doesn't work very well." Jerry Muller, The Tyranny of Metrics

Metric fixation is the incessant and unending belief that you can only tell if you've been successful if there's a measurement. In other words, results that are quantifiable are the only measure of success. If you're wondering whether or not you have the metric-fixation disease as a school leader, take a look at your present actions. If, at this time of year, you find yourself speaking of "Test-Prep Rallies" and of climbing on the roof of your building and eating chicken manure if all your students give their best on 'the tests', chances are you're badly infected. You have the metric fixation disease or what Muller (2018) simply calls "metric fixation." 

Actually, there are other symptoms too. First of all, if you believe that it is possible to replace entirely, professional judgment based on experience and talent with "numerical indicators of comparative performance based on standardized data," chances are, you are fully in the clutches of the disease of metric fixation. If you are in the fatal stages, numbers actually matter more than people do, and if the numbers conflict with reality, then you inevitably always go with the numbers.

Secondly, you're infected with metric fixation, you believe that by simply making metrics, or test results public, you can improve schools by just being accountable. This symptom of the metric fixation disease has been widespread since the days of No Child Left Behind. Your thirst for accountability and transparency is insatiable; you simply can't get enough, because you just can't have too much accountability.

Finally, you are infected with metric fixation if you stubbornly hold on to the idea that you can motivate teachers and administrators by rewarding for having more acceptable test scores by giving them more pay and/or higher status. Merit pay lives on despite its never working in education al all. If you suffer from this symptom, you spend your time trying to dream up new ways to bribe and manipulate or penalize teachers in order to get the test scores you want, in spite of repeated evidence showing that such measures just doesn't work.

There is absolutely no doubt that many 21st century education leaders (and politicians) are infected with the metric-fixation disease. The mad illness persists in spite of the fact that no achievement gaps are closing, and no miraculous gains (in their own standardized tests) has occurred.  Perhaps its time find a cure for this persistent disease that is distorting education. The only vaccination against this malady is a sudden jolt of common sense and the realization that not everything worthwhile in this world is measurable. 

Muller, J. (2018). The Tyranny of Metrics, Princeton University Press: Princeton, NJ.

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