The Fallacy of Constant Improvement

I’m getting frustrated with some of the terms that educators throw around.



Annual Yearly Progress.

I’m sure there are lots others, but it’s early, and listing all the terms that bother me isn’t the point of the post.

Why do we not understand that there is a practical limit to the advances students can make? That we cannot expect a 14 year old student to be able to improve without end. That next year’s 14 year olds cannot always be an improvement on the year before?

There are clear, measured, factual limits to the abilities of 14 year old students. Their brains are still developing. Their hormones are still awash at levels that seem obscene. They are 14. This isn’t a complaint about the age group- this is a complaint against the people who think that this year’s 14 year olds can always be higher-performing than last year’s. It just can’t happen. There’s an end-stop to that.

It’s the same as a business thinking that it can maintain 10% yearly growth indefinitely. You can’t. At some point, you saturate the market. You have no lands left to conquer. You approach the absolute limit of performance. This is also, by the way, one of my major criticism of Ray Kurzweil’s theory of exponential growth is computing power. That’s another post, though.

It’s not a sustainable model. Everything has a limit.

We judge schools and student based on the progress they make, with no regard to the limits of their capabilities. What happens with a student approaches the limits of their development? When they approach the limits of the device you’re measuring with? From the outside, it appears the student or school is failing to make progress, but the reality may be that there’s simply nowhere left to improve to.

I’m not saying we’ve reached this point, mind you. There are clearly improvements that can be made to the educational model we employ. But to continue on without even recognizing that these limits do exist sets us (and our students) up for failure.