Pitch Clocks, State Tests, Taxes, & Tolls

Phew! We’ve made it through the first week of the pitch clock era in major league baseball. A clock was inserted into our beloved game and the world didn’t come to an end. Baseball still retains the critical attributes that differentiate it from other sports and make it so special.  (Frankly, I was more concerned by the new LED “light show” that accompanies every Red Sox home run at Fenway Park than the pitch clock, but it appears I won’t have to worry about that too much this season.)

Despite the pitch clock and other rule changes over the past few years, baseball remains untimed and open-ended. At least for now, a baseball game does not end with a silly shootout like regular season games in hockey or the most important game in the world in soccer.

Through the first week of the season, the average length of a 9-inning game was 2 hours, 36 minutes – a decrease of 27 minutes since last season and 29 minutes over the average of the previous 5 years. The last time that baseball games averaged close to 2.5 hours, Jimmy Carter was in the White House.

But reducing the length of the game was not the primary purpose for instituting the pitch clock – it was just an added benefit. Like the shot clock in basketball, the primary purpose of the pitch clock is to quicken the pace of the game; that is, shortening the amount of time between interesting things happening during the course of the game.

The primary purpose of the shot clock is a little more obvious in basketball where the game time remains the same regardless of whether there is a shot attempted every 24 seconds, 30 seconds, or 5 minutes. But the powers that be felt that the game was being hurt by the “Princeton offense” of Pete Carrill or Dean Smith’s “four-corner offense” at North Carolina that might result in lengthy periods of time with lots of passing and no attempts to shoot and score. (Apparently, those “powers that be” are unfamiliar with the popularity of soccer.)

Now, shooting is not a problem. When we sit down to watch a basketball game, we just have to sit through endless fouling and interminable reviews during the last minutes of seemingly every game. But, when the ball is in play, just try to get one of these professional or college players not to shoot within the allotted time. Go ahead, try. I dare you.

I read that there were 40 pitch clock violations among pitchers and hitters through the first fifty games of the baseball season. That’s a measly 0.8 violations per game and that the number of violations undoubtedly will decrease with time.  I can only imagine that playing at the faster pace will quickly become habit, particularly for players who never played in the pre-pitch clock era.

The pitch clock will fade into the background and become superfluous.

But it will never go away because that’s not the way we do things.

Temporary Tolls and Taxes

How often do we put something in place to solve a particular problem, but then never take it away when the problem is solved or eliminated. Instead, the fix takes on a life, and infrastructure, and constituency of its own.

My favorite examples are “temporary” tolls and taxes that are instituted to pay for a particular project like the renovation of a bridge or the construction of a new convention center. They promise us that the toll or tax will only be in place until the original financing is paid off.

Of course, tolls and taxes never go away. Someone always finds a new reason to keep them in place. So, now the dime that my father tossed into the toll basket when crossing the new bridge is now a 4-dollar charge to my EZ Pass account each time I make that drive.

You may be thinking at this point, that all makes sense and sounds fairly accurate, but what does it have to do with state tests?

And why are there mammoths in the header image.


 When I worked as a member of the MCAS team at the Massachusetts Department of Education, I established the mammoth as the mascot for those of us involved in the back end, or post-administration, aspects of the program. Everyone on the team received a plastic mammoth figurine for their desk. (That’s right, no distributed leadership with regard to that decision.)

The message was that as all-encompassing as the MCAS program felt at the time, we needed to be constantly thinking of and planning for the time when it would no longer be necessary. The time when the problems that the state test and graduation requirement was put in place to solve were solved, or the time when the test became superfluous because new habits had been formed. The time when like the mammoth, MCAS would become extinct.

That was 25 years ago, and we are nowhere close to reaching that point of extinction – at least not extinction because the test is no longer necessary.

MCAS, and other state tests, like tolls and taxes, have taken on a life of their own.

I could cite the usual culprits as the reason why: money, power, corruption, inertia, complacence, compliance, or a simple lack of imagination.

One of the things that I have found most fascinating, however, is the way that state testing seems to feed off of negative energy. Energy that it devoted to complaining about and attacking the state test is simply energy (and resources) diverted from taking the actions that would really make a difference in improving the education of students.

The state test is never more necessary than when it becomes the problem to be solved. Amazing. Terribly sad, but truly amazing.

So, how do we reach the point where we can make state testing is superfluous?

To paraphrase Glinda, we’ve always had that power my dears, we just have to decide to use it.

As Jim Lovell said about landing on the moon in 1969, “… it’s not a miracle, we just decided to go.”

So, to quote Tom Brady, “LFG!”

Image by Piotr Zakrzewski from Pixabay

Published by Charlie DePascale

Charlie DePascale is an educational consultant specializing in the area of large-scale educational assessment. When absolutely necessary, he is a psychometrician. The ideas expressed in these posts are his (at least at the time they were written), and are not intended to reflect the views of any organizations with which he is affiliated personally or professionally..

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