2 thoughts on “Everyone Above Average”

  1. OK, snark all you want.

    The perspective I have on this is inspired by David Hackworth’s “About Face” and his tell-em-as-he-sees-em views of the U.S. Army.

    The late David Hackworth (he died of cancer of few years ago) certainly had a high opinion of himself with a lot of views spun off from that that are at least arguable, but the man was a decorated veteran in multiple wars and minor conflicts (U.S. occupation of Trieste, Korean War, air defense posting in Cold War, enforcement of Brown decision involving domestic use of Army troops, Vietnam), so at least he has some street cred to back up some of his left-leaning views.

    I find particularly interesting are his views on the Cold War Army, the emergence of “zero defects”, and its consequence in Vietnam. The worst part of rating systems, which in turn leads to “zero defects”, and who wants to retain a teacher or soldier with any defects, is that no one is without flaws, but you need perfection on the books, so then you lie. It is that lying about the true state of affairs that really hurt us in Vietnam.

    Who wants incompetent teachers influencing our children? Who wants incompetent Army officers protecting us from our enemies?

    So you put in various rating and evaluation systems. All of this, at least, flows from “best practices” in industry and commerce, and yes, Hackworth denigrates Whiz Kids who think that a corporate stint makes them qualified to lead the Army (McNamarra, cough), but WW-II was essentially won by overwhelming our adversaries with our industrial production of war materiel and other supplies.

    And if you are rating people, who wants to keep around anyone with less than a perfect rating. Forget about the fact that the real warrior types rather than the organization man types in the Army have always been “loose cannons” to some degree. You rate people and rate organizations and you demand “zero defects.”

    You do that, and you get rid of some slackers, yes, but you also promote and retain who Hackworth called “the perfumed princes” over the real warriors. And our troops in Vietnam paid with their lives in many instances for this.

    Forget about Hackworth and the Army for a moment. Has anyone purchased a new automobile, say, within the last 20 years when all of this Total Quality Management “stuff” became the vogue? You get an evaluation form where you are supposed to evaluate your sales experience. And you get a word from your “sales associate” (used to be called a car sales(person)), “It is important that you give me and the dealership a high rating.” Yessiree, they are not shy about trolling for good evals.

    I mean, who is going to fill out a bad rating on one of these guys, no matter how frustrating the experience? A person probably gets similar stoopid customer/stakeholder evaluations at work, and a person goes to church and hears the Bible reading about the unjust servant, who was treated gently by his master but was wickedly severe with his “reports.” “You wicked servant” thunders that reading, “I forgave you, but you could not forgive others.”

    So you shrug and check off all “excellents” and send it in. It is apparent that the auto company and its dealer are adversaries, that the eval cards are a kind of “paint by numbers” approach to customer satisfaction, and turning in anything less than “excellent” may cost that pure schmoe sales associate his job in this “zero defects” corporate world.

    So what does it have to do with a failing school where the teachers are all rated “excellent.” Yeah, yeah, teacher unions and you can’t fire egregiously bad teachers. But the failing schools for some reason, don’t seem to be located in prosperous neighborhoods. How about failing students and failing parents and a failing culture?

    So you really think that if you could identify all of the Jaime Escalente’s of the world and parachute them into your local failing school, that school would turn out a crop of calculus whizes?

    Yes, our schools are failing and it is all the union’s fault along with the teachers who are coddled! Institute performance metrics and weed out the bad ones! Well, this didn’t really work for the US Army (you retain the folks who know how to game the performance metrics), it kinda sorta works for our auto companies who have been doing a paint-by-numbers version of the Japanese quality systems for over 20 years now.

    Finally, may I suggest that the ultimate zero-defects organization is the Axelrod campaign organization that reelected the President. President Obama is far from zero defects, but his campaign used the best practices in scientific marketing to find those people willing to check “excellents” for him on the ballot. He is the same President Obama, and it doesn’t look like he will use any Total Quality Management feedback from the people who didn’t rate him “excellent” to make any change at all in his politial stance. I guess “firing” Mr. Obama could have helped, but the best statistical science has kept him around.

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