Mark St. John
Posted on: May 21, 2001 at 4:17 PM
MIKE... WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO THIS???
EVALUATING PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT...
Recently I had an experience that re-enforced my suspicions about the appropriateness of using student achievement measures to evaluate the effectiveness of professional development.
I attended a two-day golf clinic last weekend. I have been playing golf for 25 years and am largely self taught. For better or worse, I have a well-developed practice. For the past ten years or so, I have taken several lessons a year, and every now and then I attend a multi-day clinic all for the purpose of improving my game. In these lessons I get a chance to study (and reflect) on my swing as it actually is, and I get a chance to try a few new things. The best I can realistically hope for is to get a few ideas as to how, over the next year or so, I can work on my game, focusing on a few specific aspects that could benefit from my direct attention.
The clinic I attended last weekend was taught by a golf instructor named Dave. Dave has been playing golf his whole life. Like many others he was not quite good enough to make it on the PGA tour, but not unhappily, Dave has become a teacher of golf. To my mind, Dave is a good teacher. He draws on his experience both as a player of the game, and as a teacher of many who try to play the game. He knows the elements of a good swing, but perhaps more importantly, he is a good diagnostician of flawed swings he is able to provide the right tip at the right time to help each student identify and fix the flaw that is most problematic at the time. Dave takes the profession of teaching golf seriously; last month he attended a two-day golf school with Butch Harmon.
Butch Harmon, the coach of Tiger Woods, has become quite famous in recent years. He operates an elite and very expensive golf school in Las Vegas. Several times a year he offers clinics for golf instructors, in which he explains his overall approach to the game and to the teaching of the game.
Dave said that he enjoyed the Butch Harmon clinic. He picked up several new ideas that he could work into his own teaching. He also got several tips about how to improve his own golf game.
What if we looked at this situation in a parallel way that many are looking at educational reform and at the improvement of our schools? And, in particular, what if we used educational thinking to plan the evaluation of the lesson I had, or even more challenging, the evaluation of the two-day clinic that Butch Harmon offered and Dave attended?
The quality of the teacher is seen as a key to having high quality schools. And professional development is seen as important for helping teachers become skilled in their profession. But many are now saying the evaluation of professional development should focus only on the ultimate outcome of improving student achievement. After all, they argue that is the ultimate goal of all of the money that is spent on professional development. Why shouldnt we know whether or not professional development increases student achievement.
This analogy, I hope, can help illuminate the fallacy and oversimplicity in that argument. In the case of my own golf lesson, the same argument would lead to the assertion that the work of Butch Harmon should be evaluated by assessing whether or not I am able to shoot low golf scores.
Clearly, this is preposterous. But just in case the ridiculousness of the argument is not clear, let me point out the following:
Dave, my instructor, attended a two day clinic with Butch. He also has attended many other professional development experiences. He has also been teaching for many years and has through that experience developed his own approach and repetoire to teaching. It is also very important to note that the clinic that Dave offered me is part of the Sonoma Golf Academy. And that Academy has its own curriculum that it expects all of its instructors, including Dave, to follow. Hence, while Dave, may have learned a few useful things from the Butch Harmon clinic it is not a reasonable expectation to see the clinic as anything more than adding some value to what Dave is already able to do. Dave may be a good teacher or a bad teacher; the Butch Harmon clinic is unlikely to change that. It merely adds in incremental ways to Daves learning and perhaps, ultimately, helps him to evolve his teaching practice.
And in similar fashion, I have attended many other golf clinics. And, for better or worse, I have taught myself many things about the game and have developed my own unique swing. Dave was very helpful in helping me to see some things about my game; he gave me a few simple things to think about (e.g. keeping my spine angle constant throughout my swing). Will this help me? I have no doubt that in the long run all of this work will accumulate into the improvement of my game and my being a better golfer. It certainly helps me enjoy the game more. But, in the short term, my game may very well not improve; in fact, it may well get worse as I seek to make some changes in the swing I have had for a long time.
Note that my own connection with Butch Harmon is negligible, in fact, non-existent. In his clinic Butch provided Dave with a little bit of useful training and background; similarly, Dave provided me with a little bit of useful training and background. But I see very little direct connection between what I do on the golf course and what Butch Harmon does in his clinics for instructors. There are very many things that account for my inability to shoot low golf scores. The clinic I attended could be evaluated by looking at the degree to which it provided me with a good learning experience. But it should not be evaluated by looking at my golf scores.
And if the clinic that I engaged can not be evaluated on the basis of my golf scores, then it is very strange to try to evaluate the clinic that Dave attended on that basis. Certainly, I think, that Butch Harmon would find it very puzzling to be told that the quality of his clinic and the efficacy of his teaching was to be evaluated on the basis of my golf scores!!!! What if my scores dont improve and Tiger finds out that Butch just does not measure up as a teacher?