Monday, March 3, 2014

The (limited) power of analytics

Data is in vogue. 

Athletics has begun to use data - changing how we believe we can create success in athletics. Moneyball - using data to make decisions about baseball players - was an early example. First it was a book and then a movie. (Starring Brad Pitt no less!) 

MIT Sloan - Sports Analytics Conference

a conference dedicated to analyzing sports - from analyzing over a million pitches to see how umpires change how they call balls and strikes to predicting how a pitcher will do in the next inning.

But just because we can get all of this data, does it mean it is good for us to make every decision based on data?

Some are beginning to question whether we are becoming "digitally obese." 

"Technology will absolutely stay on its exponential course and make information wider, deeper, and faster. Unless we find a way to deal with this constant tsunami of possibilities, we may ultimately all become digitally obese. . ."

The same phenomenon is happening in education. 

We have more information. We have faster information. 

But do we have the right information?

We can track a student's growth and his/her achievement every year they have been in school. Correspondingly, we believe we can use that to measure the impact a teacher has had - the added-value of the teacher.

But is that really what we are doing? Does the data really show us what we think it shows us?

I believe that parents send their children to our schools so that they will learn. Those of us who are in schools need to be able to show that a student's life has been enriched in our schools. We need to be able to show that a student has learned. 

We need to do this because we are not babysitters. Our job in education is not to keep students out of trouble or to keep them "busy" while their parents are at work. 

Our job is to educate.

We now have state tests, national tests, and benchmarked assessments. We have scaled scores, percentile ranks, and projected growth metrics.

But do we have what we need to sit with a parent and describe the change that has happened in a student's life? Does the data do the job for us? 

Or is there something missing when all we rely on is data?

I think that data has its place. But the real power of schools is not just to give a parent a "number." No - the real power in schools is to be able to have a conversation about the change that has occurred in a student. Are they engaged? Are they interested in school? Do they get excited about learning? Can they apply what they know to their life outside of school? Are we seeing them develop a passion about ideas?

There is power in numbers.

But the real power of school cannot be captured in just a number. No the real power of school is displayed by students and teachers who love to learn.

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