Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Outputs Versus Inputs

Rita Moore in her closing arguments as chairperson of the PPS School Board said the main thing the district needs to focus on Is good student “outputs”
This focus is the incorrect approach. What the board needs to focus on is good student “inputs”. Inputs are what it can actually control. Inputs are easily measured and supported. Talking about “outputs” is in vogue in education – it is how educators are talking. But it is flawed. 
Think about raising children. Let’s say one of the outputs you want is a healthy child. You get there by creating the right inputs which you can actually see and measure. “Healthy” is a term which has many, many components. Do you want your child to just be physically healthy, to make healthy life choices, to be mentally healthy, to be strong, free of disease, be empathetic, able to make good choices in their eating, to exercise well.? There are a million and one ways to get your child to be healthy. Measuring how you did is both after the fact and relatively impossible. Your child gets chicken pox so you are a failure. Your child doesn’t brush his or her teeth well, so you are a failure. And on and on. 
But what you can control is what you do. You can encourage your child to eat and like vegetables and understand how this helps their health. You can encourage your child to exercise by getting her or him in a soccer league or buying them a bike. You can make sure you model good health habits yourself. 
You can do many, many things to help them be a healthy child and adult. And you can easily look at what you are doing to help him or her be healthy, and this is now, not after the fact. It is not hard to understand you can’t do everything (how about hiring the best therapist in New York and having them fly out each Wednesday to work with your child). Not going to happen. It is easy to say, yes I want my child healthy and to look at what you are doing to get there. And it is the getting there that you can measure and direct.
It is the same in education. We want all children to read. That is not the focus. The focus is what are we doing – the inputs – to get there. That is the crux of the discussion, the planning, and the strategy. What are we doing or not doing. Has not a darn thing to do with looking at the outputs. We can check and see what percentage of our kids are reading at a certain level, but knowing that level doesn’t tell us what we are doing right or wrong. We need to look at what we are doing for improvement to be made. 
Now some people might say that we can test and see what is working or not. For reading – are you kidding? There are hundreds of reasons why a child isn’t reading well and there is no way you can isolate out the variables to see why they are not reading based on testing. You can show they need phonics help say and get it for them. But testing won’t show you why they didn’t get this help in the first place. What shows you that is looking at the inputs. 
The inputs are the ball game. If you lose a game 5 to 1, this doesn’t tell you why you lost, only that you did. You have to look at what happened during the game. What were the inputs? 
So where is the harm in focusing on outputs? You miss the important part, the inputs. You waste huge amounts of time and energy. You narrow the possible inputs? You don’t consult the people working with the actual children – you sit in a room and look at the data. And another hundred reasons. 
End of story.

Steve Buel