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Weighing the Cattle Again

 My father-in-law, a farmer, used to say, “You don’t fatten the cattle by weighing them.” I used this idea once as a metaphor in an article about what we were doing to kids under the No Child Left Behind act. Weighing kids became a lot more important than feeding them in our schools. Of course, my father-in-law was right about both cattle and kids. It would be hard to prove that kids thrived under the perpetual testing of NCLB. In addition, imagine the educational feeding kids might have gotten had the money given to test developers been used for staff development or teacher salaries.

Luckily, we learned a lot from that debacle. Ha ha, just a little joke. Instead, since constantly testing kids didn’t work, we now turn our attention to their teachers. Maybe perpetually evaluating them by the test scores that didn’t improve as a result of NCLB is the way to go. Of course, we can only imagine the educational feeding teachers would have gotten had the time and money devoted to developing Byzantine processes for teacher evaluation been applied to staff development or teacher salaries. Cattle_grain_feed

But just like old guys driving sports cars or not having a promo code at check-out time, some things are both unavoidable and regrettable. We will most likely find that weighing the teachers will have the same effect as weighing the kids. Or weighing the cattle. Attempts to improve education continue to be random and expensive, based on the feelings du jour rather than any real research. It’s ironic that in education, of all things, we ignore research and instead opt for one quick fix after another. If my father-in-law had run the farm the way we run education, he would have gone under. Instead, he studied feeds and feeding, kept current on recent developments, and adjusted accordingly. Farming is, after all, a business. Making a profit or even breaking even was hard work. He could not afford to randomly try whatever untested idea came down the pike.

Farmers in the Midwest, where I grew up, got a lot of their innovative ideas from the Agricultural Extension offices, which were tied to the state’s land grant colleges. The colleges’ ag departments were all about research and development as they prepared generations of farmers, extension agents, or individuals to work in the business of agriculture. The departments ran their own farms and experimented with methods of farming before passing new ideas along to farmers in the state. Sort of like university schools on campus for K-12 education. Oh, wait, we closed a lot of those for lack of funds. Improving education is about research and development.

We do a better job improving what we feed cattle than we do with what we feed our kids.

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