The Limits of Measurement

Comparative Education


Normal 0 false false false MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-ansi-language:#0400; mso-fareast-language:#0400; mso-bidi-language:#0400;} Quantitative measures of student performance are increasingly used as proxies of educational quality and teacher ability. Such assessment regimes assume that the quality of educational practices of teachers, schools, and nations can be unambiguously measured and that such measures are sufficiently precise and robust to be aggregated into policy-relevant rankings like league tables or employment-relevant effectiveness scores for teachers. In this paper I direct attention to a tradition of viewing education as a sphere of practical knowledge, which, if taken seriously, casts a long shadow of doubt over this enterprise. Drawing on Aristotelian and pragmatist scholarship about the difference between epistemic and practical-phronetic knowledge, I argue that the classroom is a domain of practical knowledge or phronesis where quality is best assessed by a jury of experienced practitioner’s context-sensitive judgment. This is because phronesis is predominantly tacit and resists codification. It cannot be made explicit or quantitatively assessed without major distortions. The current worldwide drive that aims at measuring educational quality in precise quantitative terms commits the fallacy of misplaced precision and violates the rule of “requisite variety” which suggests that an assessment regime is at least as complex as the system it assesses. The discussion is placed in the history of the controversy between American proponents of educational efficiency, which was opposed by pragmatist philosophers like John Dewey and William James. 

(My publication)Posted:Dec 01 2017, 12:00 AM by
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