Monday, December 8, 2008

Gladwell's latest

Malcolm Gladwell, the master scientific raconteur, is at it again with a New Yorker article (indirectly) about the Peter Principle. The principle, as many of you will know, states that "In a Hierarchy Every Employee Tends to Rise to His Level of Incompetence"; which then raises the question of how to decide whether to give people a raise, or hire a person into a position a step up in the hierarchy. It's this latter question Gladwell address, arguing that there are several fields - NFL quarterbacks, teachers and financial advisers - where it is impossible to know whether a candidate will succeed or fail. An excerpt:
There are certain jobs where almost nothing you can learn about candidates before they start predicts how they’ll do once they’re hired. So how do we know whom to choose in cases like that? In recent years, a number of fields have begun to wrestle with this problem, but none with such profound social consequences as the profession of teaching.


In teaching, the implications are even more profound. They suggest that we shouldn’t be raising standards [for hiring teachers]. We should be lowering them, because there is no point in raising standards if standards don’t track with what we care about. Teaching should be open to anyone with a pulse and a college degree—and teachers should be judged after they have started their jobs, not before... [The teaching profession] needs an apprenticeship system that allows candidates to be rigorously evaluated.

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