Archive for February, 2019

I am pretty competitive. It is a short list of things I won’t try to turn into some sort of contest.  I don’t just like to run, I like to race. And while I like getting steps with my FitBit, I also really like seeing how I am doing against my friends who have the same device. I could easily go on, the list is long.  And while I like winning, I really like the act of competing.  I find it motivating.

Since I think competition is so great in so many areas, why am I so lukewarm on letter grades – particularly with our younger learners.  And why have I written multiple posts criticizing the Fraser Institute and their use of school assessment data to rank schools?  If my FitBit rankings encourage me to walk more, shouldn’t the Fraser Institute rankings encourage our students to perform better?

A recent conversation with Dean Shareski helped me bring some of this into focus.  As I look at the competitions I like, they are all ones that I have voluntarily joined to participate.  I think a key piece for me is this explicit commitment to participate.

All my favourite competitions are ones where those of us involved joined, not ones we were forced into.  I am good with competitive team sports, with their scoring and winning as the participants knew what they signed up for.  And for those who don’t want to compete, they don’t sign up.  The way my brain is wired, I think everyone must want to compete about just about everything, but I do know this isn’t true.  I was struck by a recent post by my colleague Maureen Lee who wrote that she found her FitBit was actually hurting her fitness so she has taken it off.  I think it is crucial to recognize that competition is a motivator for some people in some instances but this is far from universal.  And I realize it is not always healthy for motivation to be so extrinsic- I am the person who now doesn’t want to get off the couch when my FitBit is charging, thinking of any steps as wasted steps.

It is this volunteering piece that leads to some of my struggles with the Fraser Institute and our ranking and sorting in schools.  The Fraser Institute has a narrow slice of criteria (a few province-wide assessments) and applies blanket rankings to all schools in the province on these results.  The schools don’t sign up to participate.  It is not that inner-city schools are saying, “this year let’s compete in our writing tests with some of the elite private schools in the province”.  It takes no acknowledgement that different schools may have a different focus or goals, and are all starting from very different places.

Similarly, students working through learning their math or language arts are not asking to be put on a common scale with their age-similar peers and have their results posted in the class (I know this happens very rarely now) or stamped with a grade that says little about what they need to improve but says a lot about how they currently stack-up with others around them.  This is particularly true at younger ages.  I wonder how a 10 year-old bringing home a report card with C’s thinks – when did I sign up for this?  We know better.

It is not easy to reconcile how we can both embrace and champion competition and also question its necessity.   Perhaps we need to ask the hard question –  why exactly are we competing in something that really is a personal journey?   At least for now I am going to see how this new criteria fits – I am all for competition that I signed up for.   And to all you FitBitt-ers on my Friends list – I am coming for you!

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