I used to work for a bank. You’ve heard of this bank. It’s huge and influential and likes to take advantage of its customers (like any good bank). I worked in credit card fraud prevention.
My job was to look at credit card transactions and determine (based on my training, experience, continuing education, and intuition) if the activity was fraud. Every month, I was evaluated based on how many transactions I had reviewed, how much fraud I caught, and how much fraud I missed (if any). Though it didn’t happen much, I did occasionally miss a fraudulent charge here or there. The funny thing about fraud is that it often looks like legitimate activity (most good criminals want it to look legitimate). Sure, if I consistently missed a lot of obvious things, I’d get fired, but my managers understood that a lot of what I missed was beyond my control.
The people in charge of the bank weren’t stupid. They knew that there would be fraud. We were going to lose money, regardless of how well we were trained, how hard we worked, how much we knew. There would be fraud no matter how good we were. There were always unforeseen circumstances that came up every month: new fraud techniques, new fraud rings developing every day, new associates being trained, old associates retiring. From month to month our goals would adjust based on the circumstances we could foresee. Sometimes our goals were lower – a favorable previous month gave us some wiggle room. Sometimes, when we got hit really hard the previous month, the goals would be more aggressive. Regardless of the goals, however, we just needed to use what we knew to prevent as much fraud as we possibly could. A good previous month didn’t give us the right to slack off, but we knew our forecasts had to consider all the outside factors.
The bank understood there would be fraud, that we’d never catch 100% of it. The bank understood that outside factors had to be considered when setting goals, and that that sometimes, those goals actually had to be lowered rather than raised based on the circumstances. The bank also understood that I wouldn’t catch every fraudulent transaction every time.
Schools don’t work this way. For some reason, we’ve determined (via AYP, standardized testing, teacher accountability, etc.) that 100% is not only possible, it’s mandatory. We’ve determined that upping the percentage of students passing every year makes sense. Even though we’re getting completely different students with completely different circumstances every year, we’ve determined that those outside circumstances don’t need to be considered. And we’ve determined that the only significant factor to be evaluated is the teacher…even when the teacher is educated, trained, hardworking, and effective…even though the outside circumstances of the students are beyond the teacher’s control.
Why are we doing things this way? How does this make sense? The corporate world knows that this sort of thing isn’t practical, so when will we finally decide that it’s not practical in education?