New metrics

September 15th, 2012  |  Published in chicago

A friend posted an image on Facebook related to the Chicago Teacher Strike that said:

Legislators want teachers to be paid according to their effectiveness as evaluated by student test scores.

How about paying legislators according to their effectiveness — as evaluated by job creation and economic growth?

To unpack this a little, I’d say that job creation and economic growth suck as metrics for whether governance is working as much as test scores work as metrics for thriving schools. The problem with the debate over teacher evaluation is both in tying pay to performance in a really punitive way, but in a larger sense, the very metrics used to gauge performance.

I like things working well. I like accountability for the foundational institutions of our culture. What I don’t like is a data-driven world where the metrics most directly reflect the needs of corporations and not working and middle class people. When we talk about test scores or jobs or GDP, we’re talking about numbers, not the livable reality that we actually want.

A job or economic growth could look like a private prison, or a deregulated industry devastating the environment where its workers live, or a crazy tax deal (at the expense of worker rights) for a corporation to attract them to a state. These are the moves that legislators are making now either in an earnest failure or a cynical charade to be accountable to their constituents.

I’m not anti-metric, but as people most affected by public schools or job creation, we need to think about the metrics we really want and not just accept the ones being offered to us. Off the top of my head, these are some ones that reflect measurable outcomes in a world I’d like to live in:

  • Number of high school students who vote or otherwise engage in some civic process
  • Average number of paid family sick days and vacation
  • Number of people with health insurance or other access to health care
  • Number of years a household is able to stay in the same dwelling
  • Racial and income dissimilarity index for a neighborhood