Monday, February 18, 2013

Snow Job

The New York blizzard of 2013 really made an impact. With a range of snow falls that increased from about 6 inches in Manhattan, to 21 inches in my backyard on Long Island, to 30 inches in the eastern part of Long Island, there were areas even two days after the last flake hit the ground that were still impassable.

On Friday, the University closed at 2 PM. Up to that point in time there had been a dusting of snow followed by heavy rain. At closing time, the rain was transitioning to snow. To the credit of the University community, even with a dire weather forecast as of late Friday, Friday classes up to 2 PM were very well staffed and very well attended. It was a regular Friday in terms of participation; not even a phone call asking why we didn’t close earlier in anticipation of blizzard Nemo.

On Saturday night, however, just twelve hours after the snow stopped, my kids and I decided to venture into Manhattan to see a show which, I had learned earlier in the day would be performed as scheduled. My first inclination was to make use of mass transit and go into Manhattan via the Long Island Railroad since my local station was less than a mile from my house. Great idea but there was only one problem: the railroad had suspended operations on the branch that services my area. Mass transit, especially by rail, should be among the most reliable inclement weather providers of transportation. I understand the challenges but if mass transit is to make inroads against using a car, it needs to work that way.

The trip to and from Manhattan was effortless. Less traffic than usual and the famous Long Island Expressway, on the stretch of road from the western part of Long Island to the Queens Mid-town Tunnel to Manhattan was snow free and dry. Manhattan had a moderate amount of snow. The roads were fine and parking on the street was still easy to do. The next morning I drove my older daughter to a play date at a friend’s house and was shocked at the condition of a number of neighborhood roads. I’m not sure that the snow removal crews plowed these roads, and if they did, they certainly didn’t get the level of attention provided to many other neighborhood roads.

If there was quality control for the snow removal, it just didn’t work as it should have. Adjoining roads should not have the variability that these roads had. In thinking about education, K- 12 as well as higher education, we have some of the same variability problems. With differences in the results on standardized tests for the different sections/teachers, or differences in preparation for subsequent classes that impact how a student does in those classes, we know that the cause is often the teacher/faculty member teaching the class. What we don’t know, especially in the first example, is whether the cause of better student performance is teaching to the test or better teaching. As complex as the issue is, quality control and the consistency inherent in good quality control are essential. We should all redouble our quality control efforts, and we should all embrace the outcomes assessment that helps validate the outcome.

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