The Things That Cannot Be Easily Measured

Americans want things in tidy little packages so that we can quickly sort them into some order and declare winners and losers.  Which is why I often want to scream when educators talks about “data.”  As if nothing matters unless it can be measured and quantified and sorted.

So we decide that schools are “failing” based on the outcomes of a few tests, ignoring that learning is also about socialization, about children becoming adults, about relationships that last a lifetime, etc.

Such thinking ignores reality and discounts the impact teachers often have on their students that can not be quantified.  For instance, an educator friend befriended twin sisters who showed up at the school where she was principal on the first day of kindergarten years ago.  They are now both in college and my friend is still there for them.  Without her, theirs would be a far different story than it is.

But you cannot measure this so critical part of the education experience.

Just as you cannot put numbers on the experiences this story relates about a young girl in Dallas whose life was changed by a teacher long, long ago.

After all, children are not just a pile of data points to be sorted and shuffled and restacked and twisted and counted at the whim of another bureaucrat or philanthropist.


3 Responses to The Things That Cannot Be Easily Measured

  1. Larry, I know where you are coming from. Bureaucrats and politicians of all stripes lust after data. If they can avoid making hard decisions by letting the numbers do it for them, they will. But along with the deluge of “big data,” we now have tools available to do great qualitative research in order to understand some of the important, but difficult to quantify, aspects of education. Not just the “what” if you will, but the all important “why” too. We need to develop and implement these tools to capture these educational experiences, so they too are included in school (and teacher) evaluations. Unfortunately, the conservatives are too busy cutting education dollars to give schools (and teachers) the funding and time to document these experiences in a way that is more than just anecdotal. Until we get a more enlightened, thus probably progressive, legislature and governor, we will continue to see Alabama’s public school systems wither away.

  2. The problem with quantifying educational outcomes, is the number of variables. We try to mitigate as many of those as possible, but it’s impossible. Maybe this kid’s puppy got ran over this morning, right before the test (happened) or mom and dad decided to share their eminent divorce the evening before. Maybe this kid had a bad nights sleep. In a school of hundreds of kids, these things happen. And, since the scores returned are broken into small subgroups, it doesn’t take too many students scoring poorly to give the school a failing grade.

    • You nailed it. But you need to be an educator to know things like this and may attention to them. Unfortunately, educators are too often ignored.

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