Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Moneyball and Education
In the past few weeks, I have had less of this academic focus for my reading, as my latest two books on the go are Scorecasting and Moneyball. Being an avid sports fan and a lover of trivia, statistics, and numbers, each of these books have satiated my appetite for the quantification of talent in sport.
As baseball fans know, there are statistics kept on EVERY aspect of baseball. Hits, runs and errors. Batting averages, fielding percentages, and earned run averages. Pitch counts, home runs, and RBIs. Batting averages during the day, at night, in domes, and outdoors. Batting success against left handed pitchers versus right handed pitchers. And the list goes on and on and on.
Moneyball details the surprising success of the Oakland Athletics in the 2002 using less conventional and more analytical scouting techniques to pick players for their team. More specifically, it describes how their general manager used oft-overlooked statistics as a predictor of success for a batter in Major League Baseball. Prior to the A's in the 1990s, major league scouts would go to little league games, college games and minor league games to watch prospects coming through the system. While a few statistics like batting average, home runs, stolen bases might be a part of the process of evaluating a player, a great deal more weight was put on the impressions of the scout. As a result, the players that would garner the highest recommendations (and subsequent salaries) would be those players who met criteria that were based upon the scout's own knowledge, wisdom and experience in scouting players. In the face of this 'conventional' scouting, the Oakland A's found that two statistics (on-base percentage and slugging percentage) were often overlooked yet highly effective in predicting offensive success for a hitter in baseball.
This use of data and metrics to predict success helped Oakland have a tremendously successful year in 2002 (which included 20 straight victories) with one of the lowest payrolls of any major league team. So successful was this concept that the lexicon phrase "the team plays 'Moneyball'" has been coined by baseball pundits to refer to those teams who rely heavily on these metrics in making organizational decisions.
Education is not baseball, of that there is no doubt (I would notice the hotdogs here at the school for certain). Regardless, I began thinking about how elements this book could apply in education, specifically in teaching and education administration. Data-driven improvement has been a popular concept for many years, but I am not thinking so much about that as I am trying to determine in my own mind THE characteristics of administrators that lead to school success. THE characteristics of teachers that lead to student success. To use the Moneyball analogy, what is that "On Base Percentage" equivalent that can help predict success for administrators? What is that "Slugging Percentage" equivalent that can help predict success for teachers?
When we visit a classroom, we might observe the teacher and their students for a few minutes and walk out saying "That was good teaching!". Someone could walk into a school and chat with an Administrator for a half hour and say "She really has it going on, what a great Principal." But how do we REALLY know? How are we determining this? Is it by 'feel' (much like the traditional scouts in Moneyball)? Is it by 'the numbers', like Billy Beane and the Oakland A's? Or is it a combination of both, and if so, what should weigh heavier in terms of determining our success in our classrooms and schools?
Several months ago, I wrote a post called "Research: The Educational BS Repellent" about the work of John Hattie in his book Visible Learning. It is an incredible collection of meta-analyses of the research on over 100 factors that influence student achievement in our schools. After reading the book (and re-reading it a couple of times), I realized that much like the traditional scouts described in Moneyball, I had preconceived notions of what comprises effective educational practice in classrooms and schools. Yet after reading the meta-analyses of the meta-analyses (yes, Hattie's book is that comprehensive), I came to the conclusion that in many instances, I have to check some of my beliefs at the door and open my mind when I walk into classes at our school.
In light of the talk of teacher evaluation that is making its way around education circles (and administrator evaluation, I would hope), it is important for us to work with educators and partner groups to collectively find those key characteristics that translate into student and school success. However, when working with our partner groups, it is important to make sure that we temper our feelings and beliefs about teaching and administration with some Moneyball/Hattie-like data that helps us determine effective practices that will truly benefit our students.
If we can work some of the concepts from Moneyball into schools, I can only hope that the hotdogs aren't far behind!