The Adventures of Sampleman

In last week’s episode of “The Adventures of Sampleman,” a network television executive learned that 4,341,716 people watched her prime time program. She was happy about those numbers–until she got a bill for $38,900,000.

Why so much? Instead of monitoring a small representative sample, the ratings company telephoned every television household in America. That adds up pretty quickly.

And now, we bring you this week’s episode of “The Adventures of Sampleman.” (If on a mobile device, click here.)

The Adventures of Sampleman

In next week’s episode, a political pollster spends $17,000,000–his candidate’s entire campaign budget–on just one poll. How did he do it? Instead of polling a representative sample of voters, he and his staff went door to door and personally interviewed every registered voter.

The candidate’s numbers look good–59% say they will vote for her. However, she’s broke and may be forced to drop out of the race.

Be sure to tune in every week for ‘The Adventures of Sampleman’–because we will know if you don’t!

4 thoughts on “The Adventures of Sampleman

  1. Hi John,

    Thanks for this.

    In addition to the state and federally mandated testing, the vast majority of school districts-with no law compelling them to do so-add two to four more testing periods into the school year. Most of the testing done in a school district is not mandated by law, but freely chosen by school district superintendents.


    The answer comes from 1913, when after spectacular success in agriculture, mining and manufacturing of Frederick Winslow Taylor’s follow-the-schedule method, muckraking journalists applied a great deal of pressure on school leaders to use “the obvious solution”, Taylor’s method.

    For making Model T’s, the fundamental problem is this: if one person slows down, the whole line slows down! That is a big problem. On the other hand, if I don’t slow down to address a defect, I send a defect up the line and now the Model T won’t start when it comes off the end of the production line. That is another big problem.

    Taylor’s “basic idea” swept the world because it was so simple and so spectacularly successful at solving the fundamental problem.

    Taylor lowers the priority of quality and gives workers permission to send defects up the line. He uses inspections and a side repair process to remedy defects, and tells workers the most important thing is to “follow the schedule”.

    The basic idea is this:

    IF everyone follows the schedule doing their job the one best way (central planners figure out the one best way ahead of time),

    THEN everyone keeps working efficiently and no one slows down the line.

    And it works!

    Taylor called the production supervisors “teachers” because they taught workers the one best way to do their task, and supervised workers to make sure they did the most important thing, follow the schedule.

    Teachers get the schedule from central planning (in school districts curriculum & instruction), but just as Taylor intended don’t report back to central planning, but instead to a principal supervisor who reports to a different assistant superintendent than the one overseeing central planning. (This organizational structure is called Functional Foremanship. School districts are the only institution to continue using this structure.)

    When Taylor’s method is applied to schooling, because students unlike Model Ts, are different, the schedule guarantees:

    (a) some students will be ahead, bored, idle and not working

    (b) some will be behind and tending to fall more behind, a problem which compounds year over year.

    This is all to explain why testing is such a big part of schooling. The testing is there to enforce the highest priority of Taylor’s follow-the-schedule method: follow the schedule already. Testing and the schedule are part of a method which is unconsciously chosen by school districts year after year, decade after decade.

    All the best,

    PS If you want to see a fuller description of this, see


  2. John,

    Very creative way to draw analogies between the standardized testing juggernaut and similar approaches to monitoring our health. Thanks for keeping this issue front and center.




  3. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see what his scores would be if Mr. Duncan took, say, the 8th grade tests. He must spend the entire amount of time – no less, just because he is an adult with an important job title. Would he publish his scores???? Please???


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