This brilliant short video was created by Esther Quintero at the Albert Shanker Institute. I have never seen or read anything that so succinctly and accurately identifies what matters most in schools. She shows that relationships matter; trust matters. Yet school reform focuses on the individual: the teacher as a solitary individual who must be trained, evaluated, given a reward or a punishment for his or her solitary activity: teaching.


The video shows that schools are complex institutions, made up of interactions among many individuals and external groups, who influence one another: administrators, teachers, students, parents, community organizations, and others.


If you see the video, you will understand how simple-minded it is to give a school a letter grade. The school is a social enterprise, in which many people work together. See the school as the complex social hub that it is, rather than as a place in which individuals are rated based on test scores.


This video echoes what the American Statistical Association said in its report on value-added-assessment last year:


VAMs should be viewed within the context of quality improvement, which distinguishes aspects of quality that can be attributed to the system from those that can be attributed to individual teachers, teacher preparation programs, or schools. Most VAM studies find that teachers account for about 1% to 14% of the variability in test scores, and that the majority of opportunities for quality improvement are found in the system-level conditions. Ranking teachers by their VAM scores can have unintended consequences that reduce quality.


Repeat: “…the majority of opportunities for quality improvement are found in the system-level conditions.”


The video also is congruent with the “systems thinking” of W. Edwards Deming, the great business guru, who thought it was pointless to blame individual employees for the rise or fall of a corporation’s fortunes; if the system is designed well, individuals in the system will perform well. Blaming the frontline worker for a malfunctioning system is akin to blaming foot-soldiers for a failed offensive, or blaming assembly-line workers in an automobile plant for the loss of market share. Those who are in charge of the system are responsible for making it work so that individuals can do their jobs.