Let’s say you were trying to measure teacher effectiveness, Handle suggests:
You could theorize that any student’s test scores are 100% derived from the teacher’s pedagogic style. You would then test all the students, take a class average, compare it to all the other class averages, and grade the teacher on where the result fits in the broader distribution.
Well, perhaps you find that theory absurd. Just ask any teacher; they’ll confirm it’s absurd. Now what? Well, maybe you alter your theory and say that the teacher is only responsible for the improvement in the class average from the previous year. You do the same as above and less unrealistic but still pretty absurd. The teachers will still resist (in one way or another) if you try to evaluate them that way.
But lets say you test each student for their IQ and average test scores. You could even measure all their social statistics. You then put them into tracked, leveled classes according to both cognitive ability and prior knowledge, so that the teacher can teach in one way and use time more efficiently than if she had to deal with a large variation in ability and preparedness. Then you come up with an ‘average expected value added’ tailored to each student given similar profiles around the country.
And then, finally, you grade the teacher relative to her peers on the basis of how much value she actually added to the students based on what we expected her to be able to achieve. Now the teachers might relax the grip on their pitchforks and actually get on board your bandwagon. That’s because you are now measuring something that they know aligns with the notion of ‘teacher effectiveness’ and accords with reality, and not concocted utopian fantasy.
In other words, your latest social theory is now tempered with a lot more common sense reality than when we started. But, you know, it’s funny, we aren’t actually measuring teacher effectiveness or school quality in this realistic, common-sense way. Why not? That ‘structure of taboos’ thing, that’s why not.