Moneyball for Schooling?

The premise of the new Hollywood movie and book of the same name, Moneyball, is quite simple: the great minds who operated baseball’s best clubs were, collectively, not as clever as they thought they were – and as a result, much of their money and effort was being wasted on ideas that, when held to the light of analysis and scrutiny, weren’t worthwhile. When the old scouts asked the wrong questions, when they misunderstood the very mechanics of the game they were entrusted to understand, when they were wrong, they (and everyone else) believed they were right. Until they were proved otherwise. A team could win by spending less but by understanding the game better – wisdom would yield results.

Moneyball Trailer 2 by teasertrailer

That basic premise applies well to education, too: we all think we ‘know’ what works best, which teachers are ‘better’ than others, some techniques are stars and some are dogs, and yet we rarely have much to go on besides often-faulty instincts. I’ve gone on and on about it recently: that education requires the blending of practice and research; that some ideas are better than others, and that we should know the difference between the two; that thinking alone does not make it so; that the Kruger-Dunning Effect explains why it is much of the reason behind under-performing schools; all the way back to the first blog post in this space 15 months ago on Doug Lemov’s attempts to build a better teacher.

Of course, there is work that has been done to address the longstanding questions in education – but it is complicated. Not all the research is good; education is dynamic and responds to some degree to the society it tires to educate; and no system as chaotic as schooling can be expected to perform as a computer does, with completely predictable outcomes. But then, neither can we expect it from baseball either.

Yet, there is still truth to the premise: we can run an organization, the Oakland As or the local school, with wisdom or wives’ tales. The results, on average, have got to be better when we move past old unchallenged assumptions and stop equating the number of grey hairs with truth.

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