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  • ThomasPowell 1:42 pm on January 23, 2012 Permalink
    Tags: , education, metrics   

    Test Scores, Profits, and Page Views are Measurements, Not Primary Goals 

    I’m a little disturbed by at least a couple of news story themes that I’ve heard recently:  “Can Eliminating [X program] Improve Test Scores?” and “Students to be Moved to Schools to Improve [the school’s] Test Scores.” The former concept sounds like a fishing expedition to find a way to take money from “non-essential” programs. The latter concept sounds like a bureaucratic shell game.

    What if you substituted “Earnings Per Share” or “Page Views” in the place of “Standardized Test Scores” and “public company X” for “school X”?

    Measurements are just one instantaneous interpretation of the health of the mission — whether business or education. In either case, the numbers can be gamed in a given year… shuffling above-average students to underperforming schools, teaching to the standardized test, deferring decisions on actions negative to the bottom line, expediting actions positive to the bottom line, etc…

    How does any of this improve the health of the business or the overall education of the student?

    When you make your measurement your ultimate goal, you neglect the actual mission the organization was founded on–providing value to your customers. You never take the risk of scrutinizing the measurement to improve it, because doing so might set you back against your goal. In never changing how you measure your organization, you develop an ever-widening blind spot for any trouble that’s brewing.

    Have you sacrificed a child’s long term development–eliminating music, art, and physical education–just so that their test scores this year will be better than last year?

    Have you turned away customers for good just to save money on an offshore customer support call center?

    Have you made your site the most awful in the world, just so every visitor generates 50 page views instead of just 1?

    While it may not seem all that relevant, this thinking around measurements (called “vanity metrics” in the book) were inspired by The Lean Startup (affiliate link). It seems that a lot of energy in many endeavors is wasted in coming up with ways to see “how good we’re doing” instead of understanding if we’re truly “doing good” at all. I, personally, think it’s an eye-opening read that may challenge your habits and the habits of your organization.


  • ThomasPowell 5:38 am on December 21, 2009 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: college, commercials,   

    College grads make a million dollars more in their lifetime? Statistics and false correlation. 

    Post hoc ergo propter hoc – “false cause” fallacy.

    This topic has been written about fairly recently:  (See Forbes:  The College Hoax).  However, it has really started to irk me because of the 268collegenow.bs commercials on cable TV quoting this erroneous statistic.

    Some cause for concern:

    1. The number is not a comparison of lifetime earnings of 62-year-olds who graduated from college versus those who only graduated from high school, it is an extrapolation of a one-year sample from working age people 21-64 tears of age.
    2. Secondly, the extrapolation is done using a median of $20,000 and multiplying it by 40.  Each median is taken over the entire age group, from 21-64, by degree level.  Why is this a problem?
      1. Many professions which specifically require a bachelor’s degree have a relatively flat income growth rate:  nursing, teaching, social work, accounting.  These professions have opportunities to significantly boost income, but many require the addition of a master’s degree, which would take them out of the “bachelor’s degree” category and place them into the “advanced degree” category.
      2. For someone with no “college”, their career path might involve a trade school and/or a lifetime of real world experience.  If that real world experience typically results in a breakthrough understanding or opportunity after 23 years in a job, the resulting income has been completely ignored because it is past the midpoint from which the median was taken.
      3. Never mind the fact that a single value was plucked out of the population, yet it was multiplied through as if it was representative of that population.
    3. $80,000 in student loans takes an 8% cut out of that extrapolated earning potential.

    While the rigors of getting a college degree can be valuable experience in teaching perseverance, it does not mean that getting your “degree” will entitle you to an automatic $20,000 per year more than your high school graduate cousin.  All these quick degree programs and, to some degree, some colleges would have you believe otherwise.

    The reality is, while licensing boards may require that degree before you can seek employment in your chosen profession, the learning really doesn’t start until you take off your cap and gown and get to work.  College sets you up with a really nice set of tools, including a few that you may not get anywhere else.  You can still be a lousy handyman with even the best set of tools.

  • ThomasPowell 7:35 am on May 27, 2009 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: energy, green,   

    Carpooling is not part of a solution because it serves no ones’ “special interests” 

    I wrote my congressperson, naïvely thinking that a “Washington outsider” Democratic representative would be open to any options which led to a greater fuel economy (higher passenger miles per gallon) and  less energy usage.  My proposal: expand creation of HOV lanes, basically mandating 1 HOV anywhere that at least 3 lanes of limited-access highway existed.  The response:

    Thank you for contacting me with your support for carpooling and high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes.  I appreciate hearing from you on this important issue.

    As you may know, states have jurisdiction over the highways within their borders.  They also have the authority to determine the placement and availability of HOV lanes.  As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, I do not have the authority to require Kentucky to establish HOV lanes in the state.  I encourage you, however, to contact the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet at 502-564-4890 or [email protected].

    …the “not my department” excuse.  Of course, this was never a problem for the Federal government when the speed limit was reduced to 55 MPH, making the limit a condition for receiving Federal highway funds.  When the Federal government needs to pressure a state to adhere to a national standard, it can vote with its checkbook.

    So why isn’t carpooling part of the solution?

    • It reduces overall wear and tear on all vehicles.  (Less consumption of vehicles?)
    • It reduces overall fuel consumption (Hence there would be no “oil interest” support.)
    • It reduces the urgency to completely dump fossil fuels (Hence no “green interest” or “alternative energy interest” support.)  We know the “oil interest” voter roll and their investments; dare we look at who is making poor decisions for the country based on their own investments in green energy?  Look what happened with ethanol.
    • The average person would have to work out the logistics, which might cost a couple of swing votes.
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