Monday, December 10, 2012

Data-driven or using data to drive a story: Look at the evidence

Data is important. However, in my mind, there is a difference between being data-driven and using data to drive a particular story line.

When you are data-driven you look at the data and then identify what is says.

When you are using data to drive a story line, you identify the story that you want to tell and then you look at the data.

At times I feel like our state politicians are not data-driven.

Instead, it feels like they have made up their minds about what they want to say and then they find data that will support their story.

It is unfortunate that they do this - to be charitable.

In some ways it is deceptive and disingenuous.

Recently I wrote about how I think Governor Snyder of Michigan has identified a story he wants to tell and then found numbers to support him. Let me explain.

How many Michigan high school graduates go to college? And, more importantly, how many of those students are successful? The state of Michigan's Mi School Data website gives us the numbers.

Under the post secondary outcomes link on this website, you will see that of the 2010 Michigan high school graduates 75% had enrolled in college and 56% had earned 24 credit hours in two years. Districts across the state varied in the percentage of their graduates who enrolled in college, the percentage who earned college credit, and the percentage who enrolled in remedial classes.

In my school district, this website reveals that 90% of the class of 2010 enrolled in college and 75% of those students in two years had earned 24 college credits.

One could parse the data and argue that the Michigan numbers should be higher and that more students should be entering and succeeding in college. But overall, the numbers do suggest that three-quarters of the graduating class of 2010 went off to college and in two years over half earned 24 credit hours or two years of college credit. Again, in any specific district, the numbers could be higher or lower.

Recently, I pointed out that Governor Snyder does not use this data to communicate that Michigan high school graduates are prepared for and doing well in college.

Instead, Governor Snyder often references ACT's numbers that indicate that in Michigan less than 25% of graduating high school students meet the ACT defined benchmarks for college success in all four subject areas tested.

And technically Governor Snyder is right.

ACT gives tests in English, reading, math, and science. Depending on the student, he or she may meet the college readiness benchmark in all subject area or in just one, two, or three subjects.

According to ACT, the Michigan high school graduating class of 2010 looked like this:

College Ready
All Four Subjects19%

In Michigan, here are the numbers for the graduating class of 2012:

College Ready
All Four Subjects21%

But in my mind he is using the data deceptively because he could just as easily have used data from his own state website - MI School Data: Michigan's Official Website - to point out that 75% of the Michigan graduating class of 2010 went to college and over 56% were successful in earning 24 credit hours.

He could have used the data from these two sources together. Governor Snyder could have said that ACT's data gives us pause that we need to do more. He could have then continued and said that the evidence we have from our colleges is that our students are enrolling in college and they are being successful. He could have continued and said more needs to be done but clearly we are producing students who understand the importance of college and are working hard to be successful.

But he did not do that?


Here is my guess. He has a story he wants to tell. The story Governor Snyder wants to tell focuses on how our public schools are not preparing students and that we need to bring in other forms of schools to help them be more successful. We need online, charter, and out-of-state educational entrepreneurs to come to Michigan to show us how to do education better and cheaper.

Governor Snyder said he is data-driven.

I do not agree. I think he has a story to tell and he wants to use data to make it look real.

I am not fooled.

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