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Moneyball and Education

There’s an argument/discussion/meme bouncing around the blogosphere that is RIGHT in my wheelhouse.  I learned of it through eduwonkette and she provides the links in the chain.  Since I’ve written about this before, I’ll chime in again…

The discussion is based on the premise that judging teachers using a value-added analysis is the equivalent of a system that judges baseball players using a sabermetric analysis.  Actually, even that summary is not entirely accurate because what Michael Lewis wrote about in Moneyball is not so much a system or form of analysis as it is an orientation.  Billy Beane, J.P. Ricardi, Theo Epstein and all of the other new baseball G.M.’s who’ve espoused Moneyball-like approaches, believe that there are inefficiencies in the market.  That is, there are data available that, when subjected to appropriate statistical analyses, might surface players who are undervalued based on more traditional forms of judgment.  These forms of player valuation, when added to the more traditional/standard methods, allow teams with less resources and less payroll flexibility to find players who are most cost-effective. 

The key there is the italicized segment.  Critics of the Moneyball/Sabermetric approach (including Murray Chass) have the wrong impression that it is intended to replace more traditional/standards of player valuation.  That’s simply not true.  Sabermetric analysis is an additional weapon in the arsenal of baseball decision-makers. 

Applying that back to the proposal by New York City proposal, I have no problem using value-added analysis as an additional measure to hold teachers (and principals?) accountable.  It should never be the single criterion for any important decision about an individual teacher.  But, the data are there, so let’s look at them.  As one principal says in the NY Times article:  “This should simply be one more way to think about things,” said Frank A. Cimino, the principal of P.S. 193 in Brooklyn, who said he was participating in the experiment. “It is going to tell you some things you don’t know, but it will miss the other things that go on in a classroom.”


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