Busted Bell Curve III: Tough Questions About Superstars Among Us

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Busted Bell Curve III: Tough Questions About Superstars Among Us

The research last week that appears to have busted our ideas about the bell curve of human performance will continue to resonate in many ways (links on last week’s post).  Here are two more, prompted by media reviews and Twitter traffic on two important topics.

The media was buzzing last week about the Harvard-MIT online collaboration, with this comment by David Brooks in the NYT, and shared by several on BendBulletin.com: “If a few star professors can lecture to millions, what happens to the rest of the faculty?”  Think about this in terms of the research that shows that a few superstars are, in fact, responsible for pulling the train in most endeavors. As a school person, your head is about to get very noisy and messy.

Should we embrace new structures that leverage a few superstar teachers? Are teachers superstars due to what they teach, or the relationship that they have with their students?  Aren’t some teachers iconic at our schools for one, but not for the other? Is there a way to get the best of both worlds? Why do we assume that the traditional role of teacher: deliverer of content, organizer of classroom, mentor of a fixed number of students per year, yields anything other than average performance on each of these key functions?  Why not hire superstars for each of these critical student services and realign schools to leverage their superstar talents?  I am going to be stewing on this one a LOT.

Here is the next sacred cow, albeit sort of a newbie calf in our thinking compared to the above.  We all now “get it” about the importance of collaboration, or at least many of us are on the track with growing PLC’s and PLN’s and social networks.  But who are we collaborating with?  If a few superstars have a large proportion of the great new ideas, how much good is collaboration if our network does not include superstars?  Not to be too negative about it, but the best-intentioned group needs an engine to get it rolling down the track.  Where is that engine in our schools and our PLC’s?  Do we have to look outside school for the superstar?  Or can we hire, develop, and leverage them? Is collaboration without a superstar in the group still valuable?  I don’t have any of these answers, but I am happily drowning in new questions that need asking!

If the bell curve is in question, and if we are honest and objective in our desire to make real change, then we have to ask questions like this that are going to make people uncomfortable.  But that is good: discomfort is the flag-bearer of innovation.  And now I have to go and update my running list of Big Hairy Questions that pose both real risk and real opportunities for our schools!

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By | 2012-05-06T16:06:03+00:00 May 6th, 2012|Uncategorized|1 Comment

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  1. calseduc May 7, 2012 at 12:54 am - Reply

    Whoa there. Busted Bell Curve? After all, statistical analysis and statistical description is based on a series of assumptions. I’m not a statistical expert. That said, there are three descriptive measures of central tendency, mean, median, and mode. You will seldom if ever hear much about the average or MEAN family income in this country as it will be skewed dramatically by those whose income is extremely high and income distribution has a fit with the Pareto curve. Have you seen the L-Curve? Instead you will generally hear about the MEDIAN family income–the income of the family in the middle of the distribution. So the big question is; what assumptions do we wish to make about performance? And how much of the performance is attributable to luck, no matter how hard you may be working. (See Fooled by Randomness and/or The Black Swan by Nassim Nicolas Taleb) And if the top performers are those promoted into management; keep in mind that Dr. Deming often stated that 80% of a company’s problems were attributable to management–which also fits the Pareto curve. (Later in life he changed that to 90%). So before merrily jaunting down the road with Vilfredo Pareto, let’s check what we are doing, why we are doing it, and the assumptions we are making. Yes, many big questions to consider. Thank you Grant, for your work here. Cal

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