Tuesday, September 27, 2011

"Moneyball" and Education #change11

Dear Education,
Why are we last? Why is it that innovation used to come from our higher learning institutions and now we don’t even try to use the “newest and latest”? Business (and even sports) has been using new approaches for decades. Please help us by helping yourself.

A parent, citizen, and fan.

I am once again inspired. I just saw “Moneyball”, the new movie based on Michael Lewis’ book about the Oakland A’s baseball team. “Its focus is the team's modernized, analytical, sabermetric approach to assembling a competitive baseball team, despite Oakland's disadvantaged revenue situation.” Wikipedia contributors, "Moneyball," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, //en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Moneyball&oldid=452308274 (accessed September 27, 2011).

I want to compare the movie to the current situation in education – as I see it.

All quotes below are from the same Wikipedia resource.
"Several themes Lewis explored in the book include: insiders vs. outsiders (established traditionalists vs. upstart proponents of sabermetrics), the democratization of information causing a flattening of hierarchies, and the ruthless drive for efficiency that capitalism demands. The book also touches on Oakland's underlying economic need to stay ahead of the curve; as other teams begin mirroring Beane's strategies to evaluate offensive talent, diminishing the Athletics' advantage, Oakland begins looking for other undervalued baseball skills such as defensive capabilities.”

Traditionalists in education – I’ve seen ‘em, and I’ve worked with ‘em. They serve on the board with me and they scare me.

Upstart proponents – often ignored and I do love them so. These are the ones who shine so brightly at meetings and conferences and then … poof!

Democratization of information – it’s here but still just in the early adoption stage. Examples include the work done by David Wiley http://davidwiley.org/, and the folks at OpenContent.org (including my long-lost cousin John Wilbanks http://del-fi.org/).

Another thing pushing this is the perfect storm created by the state of budgets, the cost journals, and the dire need for progress in the sciences. Granting sources should insist on openness as too much money is spent reinventing the wheel. We should all stand on the shoulders of giants.

The drive for efficiency – again, the budgets will push this, but so will the American Graduation Initiative’s goal: by 2020, this nation will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world (http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Excerpts-of-the-Presidents-remarks-in-Warren-Michigan-and-fact-sheet-on-the-American-Graduation-Initiative/).

One of the most startling presentations I ever saw was The Challenge of Higher Expectations & Constrained Resources by David Longanecker at the WCET annual meeting in Denver, Colorado in 2009. His data heavy presentation showed the gap between expectation and reality. See http://www.slideshare.net/WCETConference/perfect-storm-or-perfect-opportunity-for-higher-education - slide 8 is particularly intriguing.

Staying ahead of the curve – There is a fight for the student in higher education especially with “for profit” vs. public institutions, but it is also in K-12 education – we currently have school districts actively promoting their schools and encouraging inter-district transfers.

“The central premise of Moneyball is that the collected wisdom of baseball insiders (including players, managers, coaches, scouts, and the front office) over the past century is subjective and often flawed. Statistics such as stolen bases, runs batted in, and batting average, typically used to gauge players, are relics of a 19th century view of the game and the statistics that were available at the time. The book argues that the Oakland A's' front office took advantage of more empirical gauges of player performance to field a team that could compete successfully against richer competitors in Major League Baseball.

Rigorous statistical analysis had demonstrated that on-base percentage and slugging percentage are better indicators of offensive success, and the A's became convinced that these qualities were cheaper to obtain on the open market than more historically valued qualities such as speed and contact. These observations often flew in the face of conventional baseball wisdom and the beliefs of many baseball scouts and executives.”

So, do test scores (ACT or SAT) or high school GPA really provide a good measure of success in college, or do we need to look at more? One of my earlier careers was in banking, and at one time I was the Marketing Director. I spent about two years initiating, implementing, and refining data mining for the bank – and that was in the early 90s. A decade later “Data Mining” appeared on the cover of a leading education publication.

Why are we so slow? Are we just mired in tradition, or is it the machine is too big and we are on the Titanic? Cuba Gooding, Jr. used the line “Show me the money” in the movie Jerry Maguire. Maybe it’s time education embraced “Show me the data.”

In the movie Boston Red Sox Owner John Henry is credited with saying, "The first one through the wall always gets bloody". Let's get bloody.

I wonder if, in ten years, there will be a movie made about analytics in higher education.

For more fun you might want to read http://www.ed.gov/technology/netp-2010.

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