The Myth of the Boiling Frog

I serve as the Chair of the School Advisory Committee for my school. One of my responsibilities is to help teachers and parents understand the state’s School Accountability Report, commonly referred to as the School Grade.

Each summer, I attend a training session on school accountability. I have to. As Florida continues to focus on reforming public education, the measures for school grades and our school improvement plan change almost every year.

To no one’s surprise, it only gets harder. It is these types of incremental changes, where the cut point for school proficiency is slowly, unnecessarily increased that remind me of the myth of the boiling frog.

Photo © 2010 J. Ronald Lee. Licensed under CC BY 2.0

The myth of the boiling frog says that if you drop a frog in boiling water it will frantically try to jump out of the pot to save itself. However, if you put a frog in lukewarm water and slowly increase the heat the frog’s system will make adjustments. The frog will continue to lie in the pot until it dies.  It is a metaphor for complacency, the idea that people and systems make adjustments to increased pressure (or heat) over time- usually to their detriment

Ironically, the state has adopted this approach in an effort to fight complacency. As was suggested during one of those yearly data trainings, the state continues to raise the bar because schools continue to rise to the standards. And we have. Our schools, our teachers, our communities continue to work to increase our student’s achievement.

However, I disagree with the notion that schools work harder because the stakes are higher. Teachers and parents continue to work harder to increase student achievement because we care about our children.

We have wanted our children to be successful; to be prepared for college and careers long before there were new standards. We weren’t driven by the unrealistic goals of No Child Left Behind that mandated 100% of students would be proficient in reading and math by 2014. We were driven by the belief that 100% of students could be proficient if we could find the right combination of teaching experience, instructional interventions and parental involvement.

I’m not arguing that standards be decreased, but let’s hold the line for a little while. Make the accountability standards the constant variable and look closely at some of the other factors of student achievement like socioeconomic status, early childhood education and teacher effectiveness.

The problem with myth of the boiling frog is that even in the pot with the slowly rising temperature, a frog that can escape – will – if given the opportunity. The only outcome of the incremental increase of standards has been the incremental increase of failures. More students, teachers and schools have been labeled as “Ineffective”. As standards rise, more frogs are looking for ways to escape the pot, too. The outlook isn’t very good for that frog placed in a pot of boiling water, either. As Professor Douglas Melton, of the Harvard University Biology department, said, “If you put a frog in boiling water, it won’t jump out. It will die.” (1)

**NO FROGS WERE HARMED IN THE WRITING OF THIS POST**

 

1. “Next Time, What Say We Boil a Consultant”. Fast Company Issue 01. October 1995. Retrieved 2014-01-11

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