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7 minutes reading time (1304 words)

Evaluating Medical Doctors and Teachers

The 8/19/2013 issue of my local newspaper, the Eugene Register-Guard, carried an article by Drs. Oz and Roizen titled Doctors Are Deadly Serious about Prescriptions. Learn more about Dr. Oz at

Here is some information from this article:

  • Seventy-five percent of North Americans don’t take their much-needed meds as directed or skip them entirely.
  • Almost 15 percent of folks 40-plus with chronic medical conditions get a failing grade for mismanagement of important medications.
  • One study of people on high blood pressure medication found skipping doses boosts the risk for deadly strokes two- to five-fold. But only half of you take the meds as prescribed.
  • Only 30 percent of teenagers stick with their asthma-control regimen, with potentially lethal consequences.
  • Less than 2 percent of adults with diabetes do regular blood-glucose monitoring, take their medications as prescribed, and follow recommended dietary guidelines.

So, here are four important questions.

  1. How much of the responsibility for such failures should we place on the doctors?
  2. How much of the blame should we place on the patients?
  3.  How much of the blame should we place on other causes, such as patient lack of money, lack of transportation, failing memory, and so on?
  4. What can be done to improve the situation?

Grading Teachers and Doctors

In recent years, there has been a strong movement toward “grading” teachers on the basis of how well their students perform on state and national exams. On the surface of things, this seems to make some sort of sense. We want students to learn the content prescribed by the schools and their teachers. Our minds may quickly jump to the conclusion that if students are not learning it is the fault of the teachers.

However, think about grading doctors on how well their patients score on “following their doctor’s advice and taking their medications.” Based on the quotes from the cited article, I guess many doctors would receive a failing grade. Moreover, this approach to grading doctors excludes questions 2 and 3 in the above list, and overly restricts seeking good answers to question 4.

The analogy of school students and doctors’ patients may seem like a stretch. But it helps to make clear the message in the often-quoted adage, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.” How much of the blame—for not taking the meds or for not doing well on tests—should we place on the first-level facilitator (doctor or teacher), and how much on the person being facilitated (patient or student)?


The medical field is able to collect good data on the consequences to the patients of not following the doctors’ recommendations and prescriptions. Patients suffer illnesses which may either be relatively immediate or be long-term, and perhaps may result in death.

“Stop smoking” is medical advice that is backed up by years of medical research and huge efforts to reduce smoking. Still, a great many people receive this message and deliberately choose not to, or are unable to, follow the recommendation. Similarly, eat a well-balanced healthy diet, exercise regularly, and don’t become grossly overweight are recommendations based on medical research and widely communicated to people through their doctors and the media. Obviously, many of us find it very difficult to follow this well-researched medical advice!

Friends, relatives, and others associated with the patient may suffer considerable sadness and grief at poor medical outcomes. Out society suffers because the patient may be less able to contribute to society and/or may become a burden on society. A doctor may well be greatly saddened and grieved, but the doctor’s practice and the hospitals he or she is affiliated with are unlikely to suffer.

Compare and contrast this medical situation with that of a student not doing well on high-stakes school tests. The student may fail a course (which is a relatively immediate consequence) and perhaps fail to graduate (which has long-term consequences). Moreover, the student’s teacher, school, and school district may suffer a variety of financial and other consequences.

There are broader consequences for our society. We have considerable research on the average future earnings of students who fail to graduate from high school as compared to those who do graduate. We have crime statistics and medical statistics that point to the values to our society of having students succeed in school.

It is important to conduct careful research regarding who or what is responsible, both for patients not following their doctors’ orders and for students not passing high-stakes tests. In both cases, the causes and effects can be very complex to discern. Thus, ongoing research is essential.

What Do We Want Students to Learn?

The high-stakes tests are gradually being improved, so that they are more fair, reliable, and valid than they have been in the past. However, our current high-stakes tests cover only a small portion of what we want students to be learning.

Think about some of the really important things that are not being measured by these subject-specific tests. Examples include a positive work and learning ethic, teamwork, the fine and performing arts, taking individual initiative to decide what one wants to learn and then learning it, creativity, tolerance for diversity in others, becoming a responsible adult citizen, learning to make effective and intelligent use of information resources such as the Web, and so on.

By overly focusing on and testing just a few specific subject areas, we are taking away resources and instructional time that could be used to greatly improve our overall educational system.

Final Remarks

Occasionally medical research gives us a magical “pill” such as a smallpox or polio vaccine. These can be mass produced and mass distributed. Somewhat similarly, we can mass produce and mass distribute antibiotics to combat infections, medicines to help control high blood pressure, and so on.

We have yet to discover any magical pills like these in education. Many educational researchers are striving to find “cures” for our teaching and learning problems that can be easily mass produced and mass distributed, and that will be appropriately used to improve education.

Meanwhile, a great many people seek scapegoats and overly simple “solutions.” Many teachers and others are bothered by the current emphasis sometimes placed on blaming the teachers. Certainly we should continue to improve teacher preservice and inservice education. But many other factors that affect the quality of our educational system also need improvement.

I believe that such “blaming” approaches hinder more positive efforts that, over the long run, will lead to substantial improvements in education. It is important to do careful research about who or what is responsible both for patients not following their doctors’ orders and students not passing high-stakes tests. In both cases, the causes and effects can be very complex to discern. Thus, ongoing research is essential.

What You Can Do

You can individualize your efforts to improve our educational system, starting in your own classroom or university class. Select an educational goal that you feel is very important, such as helping students improve their work and learning ethics. Spend some time discussing this topic with your students and/or colleagues. Begin to experiment with things you can do to make improvements in the area that you select.

Suggested Readings from IAE and Other Publications

You can use Google to search all of the IAE publications. Click here to begin. Then click in the IAE Search box that is provided, insert your search terms, and click on the Search button.

Click here to search the entire collection of IAE Blog entries.

Here are some examples of publications that might interest you:

Computational thinking. See

Empowering learners and teachers. See

Moursund, D.G. (2009). Becoming more responsible for your education. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Access at

Two brains are better than one. See

What the future is bringing us. See

Stop Picking on Teachers
Project Head Start and B-1B Bombers


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Friday, 03 December 2021

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