Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Measuring Instruments as Media for the Expression of Creative Passions in Education

June 26, 2015

Measurement is often viewed as a reduction of complex phenomena to numbers. It is accordingly also often conceived as mechanical, and disconnected from the world of life. Educational examinations are seen by many as an especially egregious form of inappropriate reduction. This perspective is contradicted, however, by a perspective that sees an analogy between educational assessment and music. Calibrated instruments, mathematical scales, and high technology play key roles in the production of music, which, ironically, is widely considered the most alive, captivating and emotionally powerful of the arts. Though behavioral psychology has indeed learned how to use music to manipulate consumer purchasing decisions, music is unabashedly accepted nonetheless as the highest expression of passion in art.

The question then arises as to if and how measurement in other areas, such as in education, might be conceived, designed, and practiced as a medium for the expression and fulfillment of creative passions. Key issues involved in substantively realizing a musical metaphor in human and social measurement include capacities to tune instruments, to define common scales, to score performances, to orchestrate harmonious relationships, to enhance choral grace note effects, and to combine elements in unique but pleasing and recognizable rhythmic arrangements.

Practical methods for making educational measurement the medium for the expression of creative passions for learning are in place in thousands of schools nationally and internationally. With such tools in hand, formative applications of integrated instruction and assessment could be conceived as intuitive media for composing and conducting expressions of creative passions. Student outcomes in reading, mathematics, and other domains may then come to be seen in terms of portfolios of works akin to those produced by musicians, sculptors, film makers, or painters.

Hundreds of thousands of books and millions of articles tuned to the same text complexity scale, for instance, provide readers an extensive palette of colorful tones and timbres for expressing their desires and capacities for learning. Graphical presentations of individual students’ outcomes, as well as outcomes aggregated by classroom, school, district, etc., could be presented, interpreted and experienced as public performances of artful developmental narratives enabling dramatic performances of personal uniqueness and social generality.

Measurement instrumentation in education is able to capture, aggregate, and organize literacy, numeracy, socio-emotional intelligence, and other performances into special portfolios documenting the play and dance of emerging new understandings. As in any creative process, accidents, errors, and idiosyncratic patterns of strengths and weaknesses may evoke powerful and dramatic expressions of beauty, and human and social value. And just as members of musical ensembles may complement one another’s skills, using rhythm and harmony to improve each others’ playing abilities in practice, so, too, instruments of formative assessment tuned to the same scale can be used to coordinate and enhance individual student and teacher skill levels.

Possibilities for orchestrating such performances across educational, health care, social service, environmental management, and other fields could similarly take advantage of existing instrument calibration and measurement technologies.

Feminist Diffractions, Stochastic Resonance, and Education, Revisited

May 25, 2015

Lehrer (2015) offers an insightful commentary on Saxe et al’s (2015) recent article in Human Development that prompts some observations.

Two areas for questions and comments come to mind. The first has to do with construing the development and revision of new ways of understanding as contested, which implicitly aligns with Latour’s (1987, pp. 89, 93) sense of the way new constructs are subjected to tests of strength. Haraway (1996) makes an important point in her critique of what she sees as the overly masculinist metaphors of heroic competition and (perhaps not so) sublimated violence in these contests. Her sense of “feminist diffractions” stops short of what I have in mind, but opens the door to an alternative approach to what Lehrer calls the “close coupling of definitions with the development and revision of new concepts and ways of understanding.”

Galison (1997, pp. 843-844), for instance, seeks a metaphor capable of expressing what happens in the conceptual, practical, and argumentative contests between different communities of scientists (instrumentalist technicians, theoreticians, and experimentalists). He wants a metaphor that does justice to the disunified chaos and disorder one finds in the relationships between these different groups, which paradoxically results in such productive and coherent innovations. He recalls Peirce’s and Wittgenstein’s metaphors of cables and threads that take their strength from being intertwined from smaller wires and bits of fiber but finds these images too mechanical for his purposes. He wants something more akin to amorphous semiconductors or laminated materials that can fail microscopically but hold macroscopically better than more structurally homogenous materials.

Berg and Timmermans (2000, pp. 55-56) make a similar observation in their study of the constitution of universalities in medical fields:

“In order for a statistical logistics to enhance precise decision making, it has to incorporate imprecision; in order to be universal, it has to carefully select its locales. … Paradoxically, then, the increased stability and reach of this network was not due to more (precise) instructions: the protocol’s logistics could thrive only by parasitically drawing upon its own disorder.”

The general problem is taken up by Ricoeur (1992, p. 289), who raises the notion of “universals in context or of potential or inchoate universals” that embody the paradox in which

“on the one hand, one must maintain the universal claim attached to a few values where the universal and the historical intersect, and on the other hand, one must submit this claim to discussion, not on a formal level, but on the level of the convictions incorporated in concrete forms of life.”

To repeat another theme that comes up again and again in this blog, this kind of noise-induced order sounds like the phenomenon of stochastic resonance (Fisher, 1992, 2011). The importance of stochastic resonance is that it opens up a way to connect the phenomena of emergent understanding with measurement, both at the local individual and general systemic levels.

This is the crux of some very important issues in the philosophy of science and in philosophy generally. Haraway (1996, pp. 439-440), for instance, points out that “embedded relationality is the prophylaxis for both relativism and transcendence.” And Golinski (2012, p. 35) similarly says, “Practices of translation, replication, and metrology have taken the place of the universality that used to be assumed as an attribute of singular science.”

A start in the direction of embedded relationality, translation, replication, and metrology in education is apparent, for instance, in work that enables teachers to usefully relate individual student performances to general learning progressions, connecting instructional applications with accountability (Fisher & Wilson, 2015; Lehrer, 2013; Lehrer & Jones, 2014; Wilson, 2004). As Lehrer (2015, p. 49) says about the Saxe et al. work, “Recurrent forms of mathematical practice enabled the authors to create compelling trajectories of collective activity and learning over time while preserving the contributions of individual development.”

The second of the two topics I’d like to address comes up here in the closing paragraph of his short commentary, where Lehrer says a “hoped-for future innovation would make it possible to visualize individual and collective trajectories simultaneously.” Though future improvements can certainlty be expected, visualizations of individual and collective trajectories for growth in reading are already being recognized in both educational and metrological contexts (Stenner, Swartz, Hanlon, & Emerson, 2012; Stenner & Fisher, 2013, p. 4) for their potential to serve as the media of an embedded relationality capable of undercutting both the relativism of uncontrolled local variation and the universalist pretensions often built into accountability programs.

With emerging recognition of the potential Rasch’s stochastic approaches to construct mapping (Bond & Fox, 2007; Wilson, 2005) offer in the way of metrological translation networks (Mari & Wilson, 2013; Pendrill, 2014; Pendrill & Fisher, 2015; Fisher & Wilson, 2015; Stenner & Fisher, 2013; Wilson, 2013; Wilson, Mari, Maul, & Torres Irribarra 2015), there are good reasons to expect significant new kinds of progress in fields that rely on assessments and surveys for outcome measurement and management.


Berg, M.,& Timmermans, S. (2000). Order and their others: On the constitution of universalities in medical work. Configurations, 8(1), 31-61.

Bond, T., & Fox, C. (2007). Applying the Rasch model: Fundamental measurement in the human sciences, 2d edition. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (1992). Stochastic resonance and Rasch measurement. Rasch Measurement Transactions, 5(4), 186-187 [].

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2011). Stochastic and historical resonances of the unit in physics and psychometrics. Measurement: Interdisciplinary Research & Perspectives, 9, 46-50.

Fisher, W. P., Jr., & Stenner, A. J. (2015). The role of metrology in mobilizing and mediating the language and culture of scientific facts. Journal of Physics Conference Series, 588(012043).

Fisher, W. P., Jr., & Wilson, M. (2015). Building a productive trading zone in educational assessment research and practice. Pensamiento Educativo, in review.

Galison, P. (1997). Image and logic: A material culture of microphysics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Golinski, J. (2012). Is it time to forget science? Reflections on singular science and its history. Osiris, 27(1), 19-36.

Haraway, D. J. (1996). Modest witness: Feminist diffractions in science studies. In P. Galison & D. J. Stump (Eds.), The disunity of science: Boundaries, contexts, and power (pp. 428-441). Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

Latour, B. (1987). Science in action: How to follow scientists and engineers through society. New York: Harvard University Press.

Lehrer, R. (2013, April 29). (Chair). In A learning progression emerges in a trading zone of professional community and identity. American Educational Research Association, Division C on Learning and Instruction, Section 2b on Learning and Motivation in Social and Cultural Contexts, San Francisco, CA.

Lehrer, R., & Jones, S. (2014, 2 April). Construct maps as boundary objects in the trading zone. In W. P. Fisher Jr. (Chair), Session 3-A: Rating Scales and Partial Credit, Theory and Applied. International Objective Measurement Workshop, Philadelphia, PA.

Lehrer, R. (2015). Designing for development: Commentary on Saxe, de Kirby, Kang, Le and Schneider. Human Development, 58(1), 45-49.

Mari, L., & Wilson, M. (2013). A gentle introduction to Rasch measurement models for metrologists. Journal of Physics Conference Series, 459(1),

Pendrill, L. (2014). Man as a measurement instrument [Special Feature]. NCSLi Measure: The Journal of Measurement Science, 9(4), 22-33.

Pendrill, L., & Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2015). Counting and quantification: Comparing psychometric and metrological perspectives on visual perceptions of number. Measurement, 71, 46-55.

Ricoeur, P. (1992). Oneself as another. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press.

Saxe, G. B., de Kirby, K., Kang, B., Le, M., & Schneider, A. (2015). Studying cognition through time in a classroom community: The interplay between “everyday” and “scientific” concepts. Human Development, 58(1), 5-44.

Stenner, A. J., & Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2013). Metrological traceability in the social sciences: A model from reading measurement. Journal of Physics: Conference Series, 459(012025),

Stenner, A. J., Swartz, C., Hanlon, S., & Emerson, C. (2012, February). Personalized learning platforms. Presented at the Pearson Global Research Conference, Fremantle, Western Australia.

Wilson, M. (Ed.). (2004). National Society for the Study of Education Yearbooks. Vol. 103, Part II: Towards coherence between classroom assessment and accountability. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press.

Wilson, M. (2005). Constructing measures: An item response modeling approach. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Wilson, M. R. (2013). Using the concept of a measurement system to characterize measurement models used in psychometrics. Measurement, 46, 3766-3774.


An Entrepreneurial Investment Model Alternative to Picketty’s Taxation Approach to Eliminating Wealth Disparities

May 14, 2014

Is taxation the only or the best solution to inequality? The way discussions of wealth disparities inevitably focus on variations in how, whom or what to tax, it is easy to assume there are no viable alternatives to taxation. But if the point is to invest in those with the most potential for making significant gains in productivity, so as to maximize the returns we realize, do we not wrongly constrain the domain of possible solutions when we misconceive an entrepreneurial problem in welfare terms?

Why can’t we require minimum levels of investment in social capital stocks and bonds offered by schools, hospitals, NGOs, etc? In human capital instruments offered by individuals? Why should not we expect those investments to be used to create new value? What supposed law of nature says it is impossible to associate new human, social and environmental value with stable and meaningful prices? And if there is such a law (such as Kenneth Arrow (1963) proposed), how can we break it? Why can’t we reconceive human and social capital stocks and flows in new ways?

There is one very good reason why we cannot now make such requirements, and it is the same reason why liberals (including me) had better become accustomed to accepting the failure of their agenda. That reason is this: social and environmental externalities. Inequality is inevitable only as long as we do not change the ways we deal with externalities. They can no longer be measured and managed in the same ways. They must be put on the books, brought into the models, measured scientifically, and traded in efficient markets. We have to invent accountability and accounting systems that harness the energy of the profit motive for the greater good—that actually grow authentic wealth and not mere money—and we have to do this far more effectively than has ever been done before.

It’s a tall order. But there are resources available to us that have not yet been introduced into the larger conversation. There are options to consider that need close study and creative experimentation. Proceeding toward the twin futilities of premature despair or unrealistic taxation will only set up another round of self-fulfilling prophecies inexorably grinding to yet another unforeseen but fully foretold disaster. Conversations about how to shape the roles, rules and institutions that make markets what they are (Miller and O’Leary, 2007) need to take place for human, social, and natural capital (Fisher and Stenner, 2011b). Indeed, those conversations are already well underway, as can be seen in the prior entries in this blog and in the sources listed below.

Arrow, K. J. (1963). Uncertainty and the welfare economics of medical care. American Economic Review, 53, 941-973.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2007). Living capital metrics. Rasch Measurement Transactions, 21(1), 1092-1093 [].

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2009a). Invariance and traceability for measures of human, social, and natural capital: Theory and application. Measurement, 42(9), 1278-1287.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2009b). NIST Critical national need idea White Paper: Metrological infrastructure for human, social, and natural capital ( Washington, DC: National Institute for Standards and Technology (11 pages).

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2010a, 22 November). Meaningfulness, measurement, value seeking, and the corporate objective function: An introduction to new possibilities. Sausalito, California: (

Fisher, W. P. J. (2010b). Measurement, reduced transaction costs, and the ethics of efficient markets for human, social, and natural capital ( Bridge to Business Postdoctoral Certification, Freeman School of Business: Tulane University.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2010c, June 13-16). Rasch, Maxwell’s method of analogy, and the Chicago tradition. In G. Cooper (Ed.), Probabilistic models for measurement in education, psychology, social science and health: Celebrating 50 years since the publication of Rasch’s Probabilistic Models. FUHU Conference Centre, Copenhagen, Denmark: University of Copenhagen School of Business.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2011a). Bringing human, social, and natural capital to life: Practical consequences and opportunities. Journal of Applied Measurement, 12(1), 49-66.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2011b, Thursday, September 1). Measurement, metrology and the coordination of sociotechnical networks. In S. Bercea (Ed.), New Education and Training Methods. International Measurement Confederation (IMEKO). Jena, Germany:

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2012a). Measure and manage: Intangible assets metric standards for sustainability. In J. Marques, S. Dhiman & S. Holt (Eds.), Business administration education: Changes in management and leadership strategies (pp. 43-63). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2012b, May/June). What the world needs now: A bold plan for new standards [Third place, 2011 NIST/SES World Standards Day paper competition]. Standards Engineering, 64(3), 1 & 3-5 [].

Fisher, W. P., Jr., & Stenner, A. J. (2011a, January). Metrology for the social, behavioral, and economic sciences.

Fisher, W. P., Jr., & Stenner, A. J. (2011b, August 31 to September 2). A technology roadmap for intangible assets metrology. In Fundamentals of measurement science. International Measurement Confederation (IMEKO) TC1-TC7-TC13 Joint Symposium. Jena, Germany:

Fisher, W. P., Jr., & Stenner, A. J. (2013a). On the potential for improved measurement in the human and social sciences. In Q. Zhang & H. Yang (Eds.), Pacific Rim Objective Measurement Symposium 2012 Conference Proceedings (pp. 1-11). Berlin, Germany: Springer-Verlag.

Fisher, W. P., Jr., & Stenner, A. J. (2013b). Overcoming the invisibility of metrology: A reading measurement network for education and the social sciences. Journal of Physics: Conference Series, 459(012024),

Miller, P., & O’Leary, T. (2007, October/November). Mediating instruments and making markets: Capital budgeting, science and the economy. Accounting, Organizations, and Society, 32(7-8), 701-734.

Professional capital as product of human, social, and decisional capitals

April 18, 2014

Leslie Pendrill gave me a tip on a very interesting book, Professional Capital, by Michael Fullan. The author’s distinction between business capital and professional capital is somewhat akin to my distinction (Fisher, 2011) between dead and living capital. The primary point of contact between Fullan’s sense of capital and mine stems from his inclusion of social and decisional capital as crucial enhancements of human capital.

Of course, defining human capital as talent, as Fullan does, is not going to go very far toward supporting generalized management of it. Efficient markets require that capital be represented in transparent and universally available instruments (common currencies or metrics). Transparent, systematic representation makes it possible to act on capital abstractly, in laboratories, courts, and banks, without having to do anything at all with the physical resource itself. (Contrast this with socialism’s focus on controlling the actual concrete resources, and the resulting empty store shelves, unfulfilled five-year plans, pogroms and purges, and overall failure.) Universally accessible transparent representations make capital additive (amounts can be accrued), divisible (it can be divided into shares), and mobile (it can be moved around in networks accepting the currency/metric). (See references below for more information.)

Fullan cites research by Carrie Leanna at the U of Pittsburgh showing that teachers with high social capital increased their students math scores by 5.7% more than teachers with low social capital. The teachers with the highest skill levels (most human capital) and high social capital did the overall best. Low-ability teachers in schools with high social capital did as well as average teachers.

This is great, but the real cream of Fullan’s argument concerns the importance of what he calls decisional capital. I don’t think this will likely work out to be entirely separate from human capital, but his point is well taken: the capacity to consistently engage with students with competence, good judgment, insight, inspiration, creative improvisation, and openness to feedback in a context of shared responsibility is vital. All of this is quite consistent with recent work on collective intelligence (Fischer, Giaccardi, Eden, et al., 2005; Hutchins, 2010; Magnus, 2007; Nersessian, 2006; Woolley, Chabris, Pentland, et al., 2010; Woolley and Fuchs, 2011).

And, of course, you can see this coming: decisional capital is precisely what better measurement provides. Integrated formative and summative assessment informs decision making at the individual level in ways that are otherwise impossible. When those assessments are expressed in uniformly interpretable and applicable units of measurement, collective intelligence and social capital are boosted in the ways documented by Leanna as enhancing teacher performance and boosting student outcomes.

Anyway, just wanted to share that. It fits right in with the trading zone concept I presented at IOMW (the slides are available on my LinkedIn page).

Fischer, G., Giaccardi, E., Eden, H., Sugimoto, M., & Ye, Y. (2005). Beyond binary choices: Integrating individual and social creativity. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 63, 482-512.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2002, Spring). “The Mystery of Capital” and the human sciences. Rasch Measurement Transactions, 15(4), 854 [].

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2003). Measurement and communities of inquiry. Rasch Measurement Transactions, 17(3), 936-938 [].

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2004a, Thursday, January 22). Bringing capital to life via measurement: A contribution to the new economics. In R. Smith (Chair), Session 3.3B. Rasch Models in Economics and Marketing. Second International Conference on Measurement. Perth, Western Australia:  Murdoch University.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2004b, Friday, July 2). Relational networks and trust in the measurement of social capital. Twelfth International Objective Measurement Workshops. Cairns, Queensland, Australia: James Cook University.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2005a). Daredevil barnstorming to the tipping point: New aspirations for the human sciences. Journal of Applied Measurement, 6(3), 173-179.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2005b, August 1-3). Data standards for living human, social, and natural capital. In Session G: Concluding Discussion, Future Plans, Policy, etc. Conference on Entrepreneurship and Human Rights. Pope Auditorium, Lowenstein Bldg, Fordham University.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2007, Summer). Living capital metrics. Rasch Measurement Transactions, 21(1), 1092-1093 [].

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2008a, 3-5 September). New metrological horizons: Invariant reference standards for instruments measuring human, social, and natural capital. 12th IMEKO TC1-TC7 Joint Symposium on Man, Science, and Measurement. Annecy, France: University of Savoie.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2008b, March 28). Rasch, Frisch, two Fishers and the prehistory of the Separability Theorem. In J. William P. Fisher (Ed.), Session 67.056. Reading Rasch Closely: The History and Future of Measurement. American Educational Research Association. New York City [Paper available at SSRN: Rasch Measurement SIG.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2009a, November). Invariance and traceability for measures of human, social, and natural capital: Theory and application. Measurement, 42(9), 1278-1287.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2009b). NIST Critical national need idea White Paper: Metrological infrastructure for human, social, and natural capital ( Washington, DC: National Institute for Standards and Technology (11 pages).

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2010a, 22 November). Meaningfulness, measurement, value seeking, and the corporate objective function: An introduction to new possibilities. Sausalito, California: (

Fisher, W. P. J. (2010b). Measurement, reduced transaction costs, and the ethics of efficient markets for human, social, and natural capital (p. Bridge to Business Postdoctoral Certification, Freeman School of Business: Tulane University.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2010c). The standard model in the history of the natural sciences, econometrics, and the social sciences. Journal of Physics: Conference Series, 238(1),

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2011a). Bringing human, social, and natural capital to life: Practical consequences and opportunities. In N. Brown, B. Duckor, K. Draney & M. Wilson (Eds.), Advances in Rasch Measurement, Vol. 2 (pp. 1-27). Maple Grove, MN: JAM Press.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2011b). Measuring genuine progress by scaling economic indicators to think global & act local: An example from the UN Millennium Development Goals project. [Online]. Available: (Accessed 18 January 2011).

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2012). Measure and manage: Intangible assets metric standards for sustainability. In J. Marques, S. Dhiman & S. Holt (Eds.), Business administration education: Changes in management and leadership strategies (pp. 43-63). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Fisher, W. P., Jr., & Stenner, A. J. (2005, Tuesday, April 12). Creating a common market for the liberation of literacy capital. In R. E. Schumacker (Ed.), Rasch Measurement: Philosophical, Biological and Attitudinal Impacts. American Educational Research Association. Montreal, Canada: Rasch Measurement SIG.

Fisher, W. P., Jr., & Stenner, A. J. (2011a, January). Metrology for the social, behavioral, and economic sciences. Available: (Accessed 12 January 2014).

Fisher, W. P., Jr., & Stenner, A. J. (2011b, August 31 to September 2). A technology roadmap for intangible assets metrology. In Fundamentals of measurement science. International Measurement Confederation (IMEKO) TC1-TC7-TC13 Joint Symposium. Jena, Germany:

Hutchins, E. (2010). Cognitive ecology. Topics in Cognitive Science, 2, 705-715.

Magnus, P. D. (2007). Distributed cognition and the task of science. Social Studies of Science, 37(2), 297-310.

Nersessian, N. J. (2006, December). Model-based reasoning in distributed cognitive systems. Philosophy of Science, pp. 699-709.

Woolley, A. W., Chabris, C. F., Pentland, A., Hashmi, N., & Malone, T. W. (2010, 29 October). Evidence for a collective intelligence factor in the performance of human groups. Science, pp. 686-688.

Woolley, A. W., & Fuchs, E. (2011, September-October). Collective intelligence in the organization of science. Organization Science, pp. 1359-1367.

Comment on Kerrey and Leeds in WSJ

November 20, 2013

Writing in today’s Wall Street Journal, Bob Kerrey and Jeffery T. Leeds note the unintended consequences likely to follow from new higher education regulations proposed by the U.S. Department of Education. Cutting to the chase, Kerrey and Leeds’ key points (emphases added) are that:

  • “Absent innovative, competitive—and, yes, disruptive—pressure to raise quality and lower costs, all the well-intentioned federal regulation in the world will not make college more accessible.”
  • “He [Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan] should insist on real and significant disclosure. Colleges should be required to post their graduation rates, job-placement rates, the average debt of their students upon graduation, their tax status and any and all information that will enable Americans to make informed decisions when choosing a school.”
  • “The department should also work with schools and colleges to address the fundamental causes of rising tuition, and hold schools accountable for student outcomes instead of their debt.”

These are, of course, exactly the themes repeatedly raised in this blog. Measurement quality is unavoidably implicated in holding schools accountable for student outcomes, in enabling consumers to make informed purchasing decisions, and in raising quality and lowering costs.

To meet the challenges we face, measurement quality must be far more than just a matter of precision and rigor. Quality must also speak to relevance, efficiency, and meaningfulness. Recent history has brought home the lesson that annual tests used solely for accountability purposes will not enable rebalanced quality/cost equations, informed consumer decisions, or fair accountability results. But how might these disparate purposes be efficiently and meaningfully realized?

It is essential that, if teachers are to be responsible for student outcomes and for raising the overall quality of education, formative measuring tools must provide the qualitative and quantitative information they need to be able to act responsibly. The irony is, of course, that the way to overcome the problems of a purely summative focus for educational measurement is to measure more! Now, measuring more need not involve devoting more time exclusively to taking tests. Instead, computerized and online assessments are increasingly integrated into instruction so that measures are made in the course of studying (Cheng and Mok, 2007; Wilson, 2004). Measures are thereby continuously updated, and are plotted in growth charts relative to long range outcome goals.

Furthermore, the qualitative information provided by the measurement process is used to inform teachers and students about what comes next in the individualized curriculum, as well as about special strengths and weaknesses. This information has been shown to be unparalleled in its value for advancing learning in the classroom (Black and Wiliam, 1998, 2009; Hattie, 2008).

But formative assessment alone will not be sufficient to the larger tasks of raising quality and lowering costs. For that, systematic quality improvement methods in schools will need to be joined with comparable outcome measures parents and students can use to inform school choice decisions (Fisher, 2013; Lunenberg, 2010).

Kerrey and Leeds rightly seek an infrastructure capable of disruptive effects, of transforming the inflationary economy of education (and health care). To state again a recurring theme in this blog, the command and control hierarchies of regulatory systems can and should be replaced with a metrological infrastructure of common metrics with the scientific, legal, and financial status of common currencies for the exchange of value. Only when such currencies are in place will we be able to set out clear paths for the informed decisions, improved quality, lower costs, and accountability for outcomes that we seek.


Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (1998). Assessment and classroom learning. Assessment in Education, 5(1), 7-74.

Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (2009). Developing the theory of formative assessment. Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability, 21, 5-31.

Cheng, Y. C., & Mok, M. M. C. (2007). School-based management and paradigm shift in education: An empirical study. International Journal of Educational Management, 21(6), 517-542.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2013). Imagining education tailored to assessment as, for, and of learning: Theory, standards, and quality improvement. Assessment and Learning, 2, in press.

Hattie, J. (2008). Visible learning. New York: Routledge.

Lunenberg, F. C. (2010). Total Quality Management applied to schools. Schooling, 1(1), 1-6.

Wilson, M. (Ed.). (2004). Towards coherence between classroom assessment and accountability. (Vol. 103, Part II, National Society for the Study of Education Yearbooks). Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press.

Survey: Technology Roadmap for Education

June 12, 2013

To whom it may concern:

The methods and techniques used in measuring reading ability in education have evolved as the practical advantages of mathematical modeling and advanced computational resources have become more widely implemented. Tests and assessments have become more complex and resources have shifted from analog atoms to digital bytes, as they have in so many other areas of life. However, not much information is available about what methods are being used, how fast new methods are coming online, or on what the associated costs are. To begin to formulate some answers to questions like these, MetaMetrics, Inc. has sponsored a “Technology Roadmap for Education” survey.

This survey was developed on the basis of ideas presented in 2011 at a meeting of the International Measurement Confederation (IMEKO) in Jena, Germany, and in 2013 at the National Council on Measurement in Education annual meeting in San Francisco, California. The survey items are suggested by Table 1 in the paper available at

We welcome comments and feedback.

This survey is sponsored by MetaMetrics, Inc., which is solely responsible for its content. MetaMetrics is a research firm in the education industry; it could be perceived that there is a conflict of interest in their support of this research, as its business interests would be served by knowledge of the results.  To level the playing field, information collected will be summarized in a publicly available report which can be used to guide future research and development in other companies and organizations, in addition to MetaMetrics.

The survey data are not individually identifiable, but all responses will be treated as confidential and will be reported only in aggregate form.

This study has been reviewed  by the MetaMetrics IRB, which determined that this project does not constitute “research with human subjects” as defined under federal regulations because the data will not be individually identifiable [45 CFR 46.102(f)].

The survey is in English, and should take approximately 20-40 minutes. Click here to take the survey, or cut and paste this web address: .

We would particularly like to hear from anyone who:

  • ·  has extensive experience managing educational testing and measurement projects; and
  • ·  has detailed knowledge of past and present educational measurement item development costs and technologies.

Please complete the survey by June 30, as we intend to submit a summary of the results by July 22 for presentation at the 2014 AERA meeting in Philadelphia.  If you would like a complimentary report summarizing the survey findings, please let me know. All responses are confidential.

Collegial regards,

William P. Fisher, Jr., Ph.D.

Consultant to MetaMetrics, Inc.

What the Economy Needs?

September 5, 2012

Expanding on remarks made by Thomas Friedman in the course of an interview with Charlie Rose broadcast on August 31, 2012…

Friedman broke the problem down to three key points. We have to have 1) a plan, 2) a fair tax contribution from the rich, and 3) aspirations for improving the overall quality of life, economically and  democratically.

The plan outlined from various points of view in this blog is to create a scientific and market infrastructure for intangible assets (human, social and natural capital), assets amounting to at least 90%of the capital under management.

The plan is fair in its advancement of equal opportunity to invest in and realize returns from one’s skills, motivations, health and trustworthiness. Everyone will be able to invest in, and receive their share of the profits from, the human, social, and natural capital stocks of individuals, communities, schools, hospitals, social service agencies, firms, etc. The rich will then both contribute to the advancement of the greater good at the same time they are able to profit from the growth in the authentic wealth created by improvements to human, community, and environmental value.

The plan aspires to great accomplishments in the depth and breadth of the innovation it will facilitate, its fulfillment of democratic principles, and the new economic growth it promises.

And so I would now like to raise a couple of sets of questions. What if all the money put into Medicare, Medicaid, education, HUD, food stamps, the EPA, etc. was instead invested in an infrastructure for intangible assets metrology and HSN capital stocks (individual, organizational–school, hospital, nonprofit, NGO, firm–and community)? Usually, talk of letting the market solve social and environmental problems is nothing but a self-serving excuse for allowing greed to rule at the expense of the greater good. Those so-called market solutions do nothing to actually shape the institutions, rules, and roles by which markets are created, and so the end result would be catastrophic. But there is an essential and unnoticed inconsistency in previously proposed approaches that involves the double standards used in defining and actualizing the various forms of capital.

As previous posts (like this one or this one) in this blog, and several of my publications, have argued, manufactured capital and property have long since been brought to life by transferable representations (titles, deeds, precision quantity measures, etc.) and the various legal, financial, educational, and scientific institutions built up around them. Human, social, and natural capital have not been brought to life and so we remain unable to take proper possession of our own properties, the ones that we most value and on which life, liberty, and happiness are most dependent.

But what if we created the needed market institutions, rules, and roles? What if everyone knew how many shares of community capital they owned, and what the current price of those shares in the market was? What if tuition for an advanced degree was denominated in the shares of literacy capital one obtained, as evident in the increased literacy measures achieved? What if taxes were abolished and minimum investments in human, social, and natural capital stocks were required? What if real, efficient, functional markets in intangible assets were created, and the associated governmental programs and departments were abolished? How much would the federal budget decrease? How much would government shrink? How much might the economy grow if that much money was invested in human, social, and natural capital stocks paying even a minimal reasonable profit?

Another round of questions asks whether we have the optimal social safety net in the current institutional context, or if perhaps that safety net could be significantly improved by following through on the concepts of impact investing and outcome-based budgeting to create a truly sustainable and socially responsible economic system? What if everyone held known numbers of tradable shares of their intangible assets (their skills, motivation, health, trust)? What if the value of those shares was common public knowledge? What if the investment paths to increasing the number and value of shares held were all well known? What if monetary profit could be derived–and could only be derived–by increasing the value of human, social, and natural capital shares? What if groups of people joined together in various kinds of organizations (schools, hospitals, businesses) to collectively grow the value of their authentic wealth? What if lean thinking was applied to the 90% of the capital under management (the human, social, and natural capital) that is currently nearly unmanageable because it is not measured in universally uniform scientific units?

The balance scale is a common symbol of justice. We do not usually aspire to take that symbol as seriously as we could. We ought to have a plan for economic justice that does not have to coerce anyone to acknowledge, pay back, and re-invest in the broad support they received en route to becoming successful. And we ought to have a plan that reinvigorates the aspirations for equal opportunity and freedom that have become a model for people all over the world. Friedman got the broad strokes right. Now’s the time to start filling in the details.

Reimagining Capitalism Again, Part III: Reflections on Greider’s “Bold Ideas” in The Nation

September 10, 2011

And so, The Nation’s “Bold Ideas for a New Economy” is disappointing for not doing more to start from the beginning identified by its own writer, William Greider. The soul of capitalism needs to be celebrated and nourished, if we are to make our economy “less destructive and domineering,” and “more focused on what people really need for fulfilling lives.” The only real alternative to celebrating and nourishing the soul of capitalism is to kill it, in the manner of the Soviet Union’s failed experiments in socialism and communism.

The article speaks the truth, though, when it says there is no point in trying to persuade the powers that be to make the needed changes. Republicans see the market as it exists as a one-size-fits-all economic panacea, when all it can accomplish in its current incomplete state is the continuing externalization of anything and everything important about human, social, and environmental decency. For their part, Democrats do indeed “insist that regulation will somehow fix whatever is broken,” in an ever-expanding socialistic micromanagement of every possible exception to the rules that emerges.

To date, the president’s efforts at a nonpartisan third way amount only to vacillations between these opposing poles. The leadership that is needed, however, is something else altogether. Yes, as The Nation article says, capitalism needs to be made to serve the interests of society, and this will require deep structural change, not just new policies. But none of the contributors of the “bold ideas” presented propose deep structural changes of a kind that actually gets at the soul of capitalism. All of the suggestions are ultimately just new policies tweaking superficial aspects of the economy in mechanical, static, and very limited ways.

The article calls for “Democratizing reforms that will compel business and finance to share decision-making and distribute rewards more fairly.” It says the vision has different names but “the essence is a fundamental redistribution of power and money.” But corporate distortions of liability law, the introduction of boardroom watchdogs, and a tax on financial speculation do not by any stretch of the imagination address the root causes of social and environmental irresponsibility in business. They “sound like obscure technical fixes” because that’s what they are. The same thing goes for low-cost lending from public banks, the double or triple bottom lines of Benefit Corporations, new anti-trust laws, calls for “open information” policies, added personal stakes for big-time CEOs, employee ownership plans, the elimination of tax subsidies for, new standards for sound investing, new measures of GDP, and government guarantees of full employment.

All of these proposals sound like what ought to be the effects and outcomes of efforts addressing the root causes of capitalisms’ shortcomings. Instead, they are band aids applied to scratched fingers and arms when multiple by-pass surgery is called for. That is, what we need is to understand how to bring the spirit of capitalism to life in the new domains of human, social, and environmental interests, but what we’re getting are nothing but more of the same piecemeal ways of moving around the deck chairs on the Titanic.

There is some truth in the assertion that what really needs reinventing is our moral and spiritual imagination. As someone (Einstein or Edison?) is supposed to have put it, originality is simply a matter of having a source for an analogy no one else has considered. Ironically, the best model is often the one most taken for granted and nearest to hand. Such is the case with the two-sided scientific and economic effects of standardized units of measurement. The fundamental moral aspect here is nothing other than the Golden Rule, independently derived and offered in cultures throughout history, globally. Individualized social measurement is nothing if not a matter of determining whether others are being treated in the way you yourself would want to be treated.

And so, yes, to stress the major point of agreement with The Nation, “the new politics does not start in Washington.” Historically, at their best, governments work to keep pace with the social and technical innovations introduced by their peoples. Margaret Mead said it well a long time ago when she asserted that small groups of committed citizens are the only sources of real social change.

Not to be just one of many “advocates with bold imaginations” who wind up marginalized by the constraints of status quo politics, I claim my personal role in imagining a new economic future by tapping as deeply as I can into the positive, pre-existing structures needed for a transition into a new democratic capitalism. We learn through what we already know. Standards are well established as essential to commerce and innovation, but 90% of the capital under management in our economy—the human, social, and natural capital—lacks the standards needed for optimal market efficiency and effectiveness. An intangible assets metric system will be a vitally important way in which we extend what is right and good in the world today into new domains.

To conclude, what sets this proposal apart from those offered by The Nation and its readers hinges on our common agreement that “the most threatening challenge to capitalism is arguably the finite carrying capacity of the natural world.” The bold ideas proposed by The Nation’s readers respond to this challenge in ways that share an important feature in common: people have to understand the message and act on it. That fact dooms all of these ideas from the start. If we have to articulate and communicate a message that people then have to act on, we remain a part of the problem and not part of the solution.

As I argue in my “The Problem is the Problem” blog post of some months ago, this way of defining problems is itself the problem. That is, we can no longer think of ourselves as separate from the challenges we face. If we think we are not all implicated through and through as participants in the construction and maintenance of the problem, then we have not understood it. The bold ideas offered to date are all responses to the state of a broken system that seek to reform one or another element in the system when what we need is a whole new system.

What we need is a system that so fully embodies nature’s own ecological wisdom that the medium becomes the message. When the ground rules for economic success are put in place such that it is impossible to earn a profit without increasing stocks of human, social, and natural capital, there will be no need to spell out the details of a microregulatory structure of controlling new anti-trust laws, “open information” policies, personal stakes for big-time CEOs, employee ownership plans, the elimination of tax subsidies, etc. What we need is precisely what Greider reported from Innovest in his book: reliable, high quality information that makes human, social, and environmental issues matter financially. Situated in a context like that described by Bernstein in his 2004 The Birth of Plenty, with the relevant property rights, rule of law, scientific rationality, capital markets, and communications networks in place, it will be impossible to stop a new economic expansion of historic proportions.

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Reimagining Capitalism Again, Part I: Reflections on Greider’s Soul of Capitalism

September 10, 2011

In his 2003 book, The Soul of Capitalism, William Greider wrote, “If capitalism were someday found to have a soul, it would probably be located in the mystic qualities of capital itself” (p. 94). The recurring theme in the book is that the resolution of capitalism’s deep conflicts must grow out as organic changes from the roots of capitalism itself.

In the book, Greider quotes Innovest’s Michael Kiernan as suggesting that the goal has to be re-engineering the DNA of Wall Street (p. 119). He says the key to doing this is good reliable information that has heretofore been unavailable but which will make social and environmental issues matter financially. The underlying problems of exactly what solid, high quality information looks like, where it comes from, and how it is created are not stated or examined, but the point, as Kiernan says, is that “the markets are pretty good at punishing and rewarding.” The objective is to use “the financial markets as an engine of reform and positive change rather than destruction.”

This objective is, of course, the focus of multiple postings in this blog (see especially this one and this one). From my point of view, capitalism indeed does have a soul and it is actually located in the qualities of capital itself. Think about it: if a soul is a spirit of something that exists independent of its physical manifestation, then the soul of capitalism is the fungibility of capital. Now, this fungibility is complex and ambiguous. It takes its strength and practical value from the way market exchange are represented in terms of currencies, monetary units that, within some limits, provide an objective basis of comparison useful for rewarding those capable of matching supply with demand.

But the fungibility of capital can also be dangerously misconceived when the rich complexity and diversity of human capital is unjustifiably reduced to labor, when the irreplaceable value of natural capital is unjustifiably reduced to land, and when the trust, loyalty, and commitment of social capital is completely ignored in financial accounting and economic models. As I’ve previously said in this blog, the concept of human capital is inherently immoral so far as it reduces real human beings to interchangeable parts in an economic machine.

So how could it ever be possible to justify any reduction of human, social, and natural value to a mere number? Isn’t this the ultimate in the despicable inhumanity of economic logic, corporate decision making, and, ultimately, the justification of greed? Many among us who profess liberal and progressive perspectives seem to have an automatic and reactionary prejudice of this kind. This makes these well-intentioned souls as much a part of the problem as those among us with sometimes just as well-intentioned perspectives that accept such reductionism as the price of entry into the game.

There is another way. Human, social, and natural value can be measured and made manageable in ways that do not necessitate totalizing reduction to a mere number. The problem is not reduction itself, but unjustified, totalizing reduction. Referring to all people as “man” or “men” is an unjustified reduction dangerous in the way it focuses attention only on males. The tendency to think and act in ways privileging males over females that is fostered by this sense of “man” shortchanges us all, and has happily been largely eliminated from discourse.

Making language more inclusive does not, however, mean that words lose the singular specificity they need to be able to refer to things in the world. Any given word represents an infinite population of possible members of a class of things, actions, and forms of life. Any simple sentence combining words into a coherent utterance then multiplies infinities upon infinities. Discourse inherently reduces multiplicities into texts of limited lengths.

Like any tool, reduction has its uses. Also like any tool, problems arise when the tool is allowed to occupy some hidden and unexamined blind spot from which it can dominate and control the way we think about everything. Critical thinking is most difficult in those instances in which the tools of thinking themselves need to be critically evaluated. To reject reduction uncritically as inherently unjustified is to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Indeed, it is impossible to formulate a statement of the rejection without simultaneously enacting exactly what is supposed to be rejected.

We have numerous ready-to-hand examples of how all reduction has been unjustifiably reduced to one homogenized evil. But one of the results of experiments in communal living in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as of the fall of the Soviet Union, was the realization that the centralized command and control of collectively owned community property cannot compete with the creativity engendered when individuals hold legal title to the fruits of their labors. If individuals cannot own the results of the investments they make, no one makes any investments.

In other words, if everything is owned collectively and is never reduced to individually possessed shares that can be creatively invested for profitable returns, then the system is structured so as to punish innovation and reward doing as little as possible. But there’s another way of thinking about the relation of the collective to the individual. The living soul of capitalism shows itself in the way high quality information makes it possible for markets to efficiently coordinate and align individual producers’ and consumers’ collective behaviors and decisions. What would happen if we could do that for human, social, and natural capital markets? What if “social capitalism” is more than an empty metaphor? What if capital institutions can be configured so that individual profit really does become the driver of socially responsible, sustainable economics?

And here we arrive at the crux of the problem. How do we create the high quality, solid information markets need to punish and reward relative to ethical and sustainable human, social, and environmental values? Well, what can we learn from the way we created that kind of information for property and manufactured capital? These are the questions taken up and explored in the postings in this blog, and in my scientific research publications and meeting presentations. In the near future, I’ll push my reflection on these questions further, and will explore some other possible answers to the questions offered by Greider and his readers in a recent issue of The Nation.

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New Opportunities for Job Creation and Prosperity

August 17, 2011

What can be done to create jobs and revive the economy? There is no simple, easy answer to this question. Creating busywork is nonsense. We need fulfilling occupations that meet the world’s demand for products and services. It is not easy to see how meaningful work can be systematically created on a broad scale. New energy efficiencies may lead to the cultivation of significant job growth, but it may be unwise to put all of our eggs in this one basket.

So how are we to solve this puzzle? What other areas in the economy might be ripe for the introduction of a new technology capable of supporting a wave of new productivity, like computers did in the 1980s, or the Internet in the 1990s? In trying to answer this question, simplicity and elegance are key factors in keeping things at a practical level.

For instance, we know we accomplish more working together as a team than as disconnected individuals. New jobs, especially new kinds of jobs, will have to be created via innovation. Innovation in science and industry is a team sport. So the first order of business in teaming up for job creation is to know the rules of the game. The economic game is played according to the rules of law embodied in property rights, scientific rationality, capital markets, and transportation/communications networks (see William Bernstein’s 2004 book, The Birth of Plenty). When these conditions are met, as they were in Europe and North America at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the stage is set for long term innovation and growth on a broad scale.

The second order of business is to identify areas in the economy that lack one or more of these four conditions, and that could reasonably be expected to benefit from their introduction. Education, health care, social services, and environmental management come immediately to mind. These industries are plagued with seemingly interminable inflationary spirals, which, no doubt, are at least in part caused by the inability of investors to distinguish between high and low performers. Money cannot flow to and reward programs producing superior results in these industries because they lack common product definitions and comparable measures of their results.

The problems these industries are experiencing are not specific to each of them in particular. Rather, the problem is a general one applicable across all industries, not just these. Traditionally, economic thinking focuses on three main forms of capital: land, labor, and manufactured products (including everything from machines, roads, and buildings to food, clothing, and appliances). Cash and credit are often thought of as liquid capital, but their economic value stems entirely from the access they provide to land, labor, and manufactured products.

Economic activity is not really, however, restricted to these three forms of capital. Land is far more than a piece of ground. What are actually at stake are the earth’s regenerative ecosystems, with the resources and services they provide. And labor is far more than a pair of skilled hands; people bring a complex mix of abilities, motivations, and health to bear in their work. Finally, this scheme lacks an essential element: the trust, loyalty, and commitment required for even the smallest economic exchange to take place. Without social capital, all the other forms of capital (human, natural, and manufactured, including property) are worthless. Consistent, sustainable, and socially responsible economic growth requires that all four forms of capital be made accountable in financial spreadsheets and economic models.

The third order of business, then, is to ask if the four conditions laying out the rules for the economic game are met in each of the four capital domains. The table below suggests that all four conditions are fully met only for manufactured products. They are partially met for natural resources, such as minerals, timber, fisheries, etc., but not at all for nature’s air and water purification systems or broader genetic ecosystem services.


Existing Conditions Relevant to Conceiving a New Birth of Plenty, by Capital Domains





Property rights





Scientific rationality





Capital markets





Transportation & communication networks





That is, no provisions exist for individual ownership of shares in the total available stock of air and water, or of forest, watershed, estuary, and other ecosystem service outcomes. Nor do any individuals have free and clear title to their most personal properties, the intangible abilities, motivations, health, and trust most essential to their economic productivity. Aggregate statistics are indeed commonly used to provide a basis for policy and research in human, social, and natural capital markets, but falsifiable models of individually applicable unit quantities are not widely applied. Scientifically rational measures of our individual stocks of intangible asset value will require extensive use of these falsifiable models in calibrating the relevant instrumentation.

Without such measures, we cannot know how many shares of stock in these forms of capital we own, or what they are worth in dollar terms. We lack these measures, even though decades have passed since researchers first established firm theoretical and practical foundations for them. And more importantly, even when scientifically rational individual measures can be obtained, they are never expressed in terms of a unit standardized for use within a given market’s communications network.

So what are the consequences for teams playing the economic game? High performance teams’ individual decisions and behaviors are harmonized in ways that cannot otherwise be achieved only when unit amounts, prices, and costs are universally comparable and publicly available. This is why standard currencies and exchange rates are so important.

And right here we have an insight into what we can do to create jobs. New jobs are likely going to have to be new kinds of jobs resulting from innovations. As has been detailed at length in recent works such as Surowiecki’s 2004 book, The Wisdom of Crowds, innovation in science and industry depends on standards. Standards are common languages that enable us to multiply our individual cognitive powers into new levels of collective productivity. Weights and measures standards are like monetary currencies; they coordinate the exchange of value in laboratories and businesses in the same way that dollars do in the US economy.

Applying Bernstein’s four conditions for economic growth to intangible assets, we see that a long term program for job creation then requires

  1. legislation establishing human, social, and natural capital property rights, and an Intangible Assets Metrology System;
  2. scientific research into consensus standards for measuring human, social, and natural capital;
  3. venture capital educational and marketing programs; and
  4. distributed information networks and computer applications through which investments in human, social, and natural capital can be tracked and traded in accord with the rule of law governing property rights and in accord with established consensus standards.

Of these four conditions, Bernstein (p. 383) points to property rights as being the most difficult to establish, and the most important for prosperity. Scientific results are widely available in online libraries. Capital can be obtained from investors anywhere. Transportation and communications services are available commercially.

But valid and verifiable means of representing legal title to privately owned property is a problem often not yet solved even for real estate in many Third World and former communist countries (see De Soto’s 2000 book, The Mystery of Capital). Creating systems for knowing the quality and quantity of educational, health care, social, and environmental service outcomes is going to be a very difficult process. It will not be impossible, however, and having the problem identified advances us significantly towards new economic possibilities.

We need leaders able and willing to formulate audacious goals for new economic growth from ideas such as these. We need enlightened visionaries able to see our potentials from a new perspective, and who can reflect our new self-image back at us. When these leaders emerge—and they will, somewhere, somehow—the imaginations of millions of entrepreneurial thinkers and actors will be fired, and new possibilities will unfold.

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