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Data blinded or data informed?


Over the past few days, three articles caught my eye that speak to the role of data in making educational choices for kids.

Diane Ravitch writes about Campbell's Law: "The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor." Ravitch adds "Campbell’s Law explains why high-stakes testing promotes cheating, narrowing the curriculum, teaching to the test, and other negative behaviors." 

I would add that it also de-values education in the eyes of our students (It's just a hoop through which I must jump), stifles creativity being asked for and being given in assignments, and offers false comparisons to parents in attempting to select good schools for their children (high test scores at the sake of good extra-curricular opportunities, a variety of electives, positive school climate, etc.)

John Kuhn at The Chalk Face writes about "The Tyranny of the Datum." Kuhn writes that "The best-case scenarios [of data use] –individualized highly-effective remediation, personalized educational experiences, de-tracking and de-grading students, a great flourishing in American schools–are dizzying in their hopeful promise." But worries "data should come with some serious warnings" and lists these four:

  1. While data (plural) should inform, each datum wants to rule alone. "Data-informed quickly gives way to data-driven, and then data-driven gives way to datum-blinded."
  2. Data wants all your time and money and effort. "it is practically inevitable that end users will short-circuit the system in a single-minded effort to get good test scores." See Campbell's Law above.
  3. Data is useful for correcting course, but it is also useful for charting a course straight for the iceberg. "The vocal opposition we see to data collection efforts l... can all be traced back, largely, to two things: (1) dismay over how much class time is sacrificed for the all-encompassing data hunt, and (2) a foundational mistrust regarding the aims of those who gather and control the data." 
  4. Big Data hates little data. "Data has always been gathered by teachers, and it has always informed their instruction. Teachers give assignments and grade them–not because they like to grade, but because they want their students and themselves to see whether or not students are learning the material. But Big Data isn’t apparently interested in this arrangement..."

Which finally brings us to Paul Thomas writing on Alternet about "Why Teachers' Voices Matter in Education Reform Debate." After describing a  typical teaching day (that I found very familiar) to provide his bona fides, he writes:

I continue to see a number of people weighing in on the education reform debate bristle as classroom teachers call for their voices to be heard and point out that education debates and policies are being driven by people with little K-12 classroom experience (such as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Bill Gates and Michelle Rhee).

Although not a simple argument, it is an essential argument: Classroom teaching experience and teachers’ voice should matter, by driving the education reform debate as well as informing education policy.


What I am saying is that education is a field rich in experience and expertise and bankrupt by the unwillingness not to tap into that goldmine. 

Evidence. Meaning. Direction. Creativity. Leadership. All should be sought from both the Big Data and the little data. I want to hear from everyone with a concern about children's futures - from the Arne Duncans and Diane Ravichs to the naive first year kindergarten teachesr to the burnt-out high school math teachers.

Good drivers listen to the voice of the GPS, but they look at a road map and use common sense when getting from point A to point B as well. Is educational reform really all that different? 

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