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Moneyball and quality history education

I’m thinking out loud this afternoon. So . . . good luck.

I’ve always been a big fan of Michael Lewis. Liar’s Poker, Trail Fever, The Blind Side . . . and one of my favorites, Moneyball.

I first read Moneyball just a year or so after it came out in 2003. It not only helped me better understand baseball but it also helped me see how change can be a good thing.

And so I had to go see the movie this last weekend. Of course, there were liberties taken with the story and characters but it did do a pretty good job of conveying the major theme of the book:

Collective and institutionalized wisdom is often wrong, causing people to make decisions based on flawed data.

The real question?

What does success look like and how can we measure it?

For those people unfamiliar with the specifics, Lewis writes about a guy named Billy Beane who was the general manager of the Oakland A’s. The problem that Beane had to solve was how to win baseball games with an overall team salary of about $41,000,000. Which sounds like a lot except when compared with just about every other team in the major leagues.

The New York Yankees, for example, had a team salary of around $125,000,000. So if the A’s and the Yankees both wanted the same quality player, the Yankees could always outbid the A’s and build a team of studs. The A’s would get stuck with the leftovers.

The solution? Sabermetrics.

Sabermetrics is a different way of finding good baseball players than what was being used at the time. Beane threw out the traditional methods of evaluating baseball players – the methods all other teams were using – and began finding players that no one else wanted and could afford but were still able to win games.

Simple stated – Beane figured out a way of defining success that was exactly opposite of what baseball purists were telling him. For example, he threw out the concept of high batting averages and base stealing. And instead he focused on walks and on-base percentage.

The result was that the Oakland A’s won more games over the last decade or so than any other team.

Yeah . . . so? Major league baseball is very traditional and hates change.

K-12 education is very traditional and hates change. We’re great at measuring stuff. We’re great at teaching the same thing, the same way it’s always been taught. Why? Just because that’s the way it’s always been done.

But I’m going out on a limb here. In the new world of 21st century, we need to start asking some of the same questions that Billy Beane was asking:

What does success look like and how can we measure it in a 2011 history classroom?

I’m in a conversation today with a group of teachers about how to do social studies standards and assessments differently so that kids learn what we want them to learn. And I’m thinking to myself:

What would Moneyball look like applied to social studies and history instruction?

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