Don’t Confuse Credentials with Effectiveness

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Since I worked on Capitol Hill decades ago, I find “inappropriate indicators” – criteria or benchmarks people use to make judgments that should not be used for those purposes – interesting; I’ve shared a few in past blogs, here’s one related to Job Performance Success.

Too many executives focus on academic background – schools and grades – when hiring new workers, even though behavioral assessments are much more predictive. This includes experiences demonstrating skills (to perform the strategic activities key to the job) and ability to work well co-workers and clients (to fit into your culture). Topgrading by Bradford Smart is an excellent approach to how to choose the right predictive indicators for successful recruitment.

In December, 2014 the White House held an early childhood education Summit to launch two new federal competitive programs: the Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships (to increase the availability of high-quality infant and toddler care) and The Preschool Development grants (to expand preschool programs in disadvantaged communities). Katharine Stevens’ op-ed on it in the Wall Street Journal caught my attention because (1) I coordinated the first evaluation of the needs for handicapped children to get Head Start Services (which led to the funding of a model program and eventual incorporation of the children in all programs) and believe strongly in such programs and (2) its title Here Come the Child-Care Cops (Dec. 12, 2014).

Grants were announced at the Summit, as well as the conditions winners must meet to get them.
The Early Head Start-Child Care Partners will find that their funding is subject to federal monitoring to ensure “compliance with 2400 Head Start ‘Performance Standards’, stipulating everything from staff qualifications to cot placement to how to clean potties.”

The Preschool Development Grants similarly seek high quality care by dictating staff qualifications and class size – rather than good outcomes, such as improved knowledge and skills. It requires that all preschool teachers have Bachelor’s degrees (in any field) to ensure a “qualified workforce”. The true measure should be whether the caretakers are effective. Does having a Bachelor’s degree make a pre-school teacher more effective?

Research by Robert Pianta and Bridget Hamre at the University of Virginia’s Center for Advanced Research on Teaching and Learning found that “what counts isn’t what degrees teachers have but how they teach. That’s especially critical in early childhood when interactions between teachers and students, not content knowledge, is what drives success.”

Teacher quality and pay should be defined by effectiveness in the classroom, not credentials. Attending college, per se, may not provide essential skills needed to teach young children. Those skills are best learned through specialized training combined with on-the-job[practice under the supervision of an expert teacher.

Focusing on the academic degree allows program officials to claim they raised teacher quality, without actually doing so. What it will do is increase the cost of programs – as current pre-school teachers without college degrees have to go back to school to get them (estimated at $23 Billion for 300,000 teachers) –and require that someone enforce this new provision at each childcare program! (For this reason, Ms. Stevens entitled her article: Here Come the Child-Care Cops. See it for more details.)

So, once again, using inappropriate indicators may not produce the desired results. By becoming more attuned to the danger of using them, we can focus on truly predictive ones. Do you have examples of inappropriate indicators? Share them.