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Monthly Archives: January 2014

The Measure of Excellence

In the realm of education, there are few topics more controversial than the measurement of excellence. Whether we are measuring academic performance, faculty effectiveness, or the school as a whole, all agree that excellence is the utmost objective, but few concur on what defines it or how best to achieve it.

Recently, an articleby Pat Bassett, retired president of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), and Peter Upham, executive director of The Association of Boarding Schools (TABS), cited 25 factors that distinguish excellent boarding schools. I was not at all surprised by their list. It encompassed all the qualities I consider essential for boarding school excellence.

Yet, as I read through the factors I started noticing what wasn’t there; most notably the measurement of learning outcomes. Many boarding schools see their college acceptance list as a surrogate indicator for the value of their program. This one-dimensional approach asserts that a school can demonstrate its effectiveness by graduating proficient students able to secure admission to a good college.

It doesn’t. If the students the school admitted were already strong students, the list simply proves that the program didn’t do damage to its students as they passed through the programmatic checkpoints. If a school wants to really tout its efficacy—beyond flaunting grade point averages or awarded scholarships—it needs to demonstrate the value of the education its students received.

That value is ultimately determined by how far students develop during the time they attended a school. Did a high-performing student who won admission to an Ivy League school receive as much value from his education as a student who overcame her learning disability and entered an outstanding but less prestigious school? This quality is not always easy to assess, particularly when you consider varied learning styles, the fact that some students test well and others don’t, and international students’ diverse educational backgrounds. Some continue to make headway in this effort.

An article entitled “Assessing What We Value” in the most recent issue of NAIS’s Independent School magazine addresses measurement and assessment. The author, William Taylor, quotes Dan Arierly, a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University, who notes that, “Human beings will adjust behavior based on the metrics they’re held against. What you measure is what you’ll get.”

This is quite true, and leads independent school educators to an interesting quandary when assessing their programs: Do we measure, and risk reducing our students’ experience to an academic number? Or do we forgo measurement, and accept that the real value of our program isn’t actually measurable? Even raising this question creates risk.

What is worse, fearing to ask the tough question, or simply ignoring it?

Resolution and Resolve

There are few things in life better than a brave, full hearted commitment to learn through healthy risk taking.

Taking the Sharp End

People seem to be big on New Year’s resolutions… eat better, lose weight, work out more, etc… How many people actually keep them though?

I’ve never liked New Years resolutions. I’ve only ever made one when forced by others to do so. As such, it’s easy to surmise that these did not pan out over the course of a year. They weren’t even anything particularly difficult or potentially life-altering. The only one I can even remember was something like “cook 10 new dishes over the course of the year.” Obviously, I was really stretching myself on that one. In retrospect, it’s pretty embarrassing that I couldn’t even manage that…

Granted, this was probably 2011 when my life had completely gone to hell, but it probably wouldn’t have killed me to open a cookbook (though a pretty good Thai chicken dish and a WAY too spicy chipotle fish dinner did come…

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