On the Educational Numerati & Picking the Wrong Measures in Education

I’m increasingly convinced that we are experiencing a measurement crisis in modern education. Big data is here to stay. Analytics is here to stay. The algorithmic revolution is well underway. I have no intention of arguing that we resist or avoid these innovations and developments, but we must also cultivate a deep and persistent love for wisdom that informs our use of this growing world of numbers, analytics, and measurement. We must not consider questions about wisdom, values and priorities in education as less important or any less significant in our explorations of educational innovation and entrepreneurship.

The common measurements that seem to emerge are too often reductionist and de-contextual. Then we are building policies, lists of best practices, and social norms based upon the drive to raise these numbers that we select and champion as important. The result is a less humane education system, one that will not serve us well in the long run.

People who challenge these practices are too quickly labeled as irrational and behind the times, but that often comes from what I see as a less nuanced and sophisticated understanding of the world of numbers, analytics, statistics, big data, and measurement.

Too many foundations and investors get narrowly focused upon raising numbers as a proxy for helping students learn, grow, and thrive.

The same thing is happening with many education policymakers and politicians.

Educators and school leaders join in this obsession, fueling the problem when they submit to and unquestionably and/or compliantly go along with these number-driven priorities, often to please the outside agency or secure desired or needed funding. Nobody wants to be labeled compliant or be denied funds.

Professional associations are, too often, contributing to this as well.

Entrepreneurs contribute to the problem when they build products in an attempt to ride the policy and regulation waves toward a hefty profit, promising to help schools “raise their numbers” as prioritized by funders, government agencies, and professional associations.

Even the critics of testing and numbers-obsessed modern education find themselves giving in by accepting the vocabulary and framing of the educational numerati. I’m likely guilty of this too. One well-known critic of both the testing culture in education and modern charter schools will write about the downside of testing culture in one article or book chapter, only to use these same flawed numeric practices as evidence against charter schools. Likely unintended, she just affirmed the numerati agenda.

All of this ultimately does little to create rich, vibrant, positive learning communities.

The world of numbers and big data is powerful and useful, having a valuable role in education, but we also need words, wisdom, ideas that matter, and carefully considered values and priorities.

One Reply to “On the Educational Numerati & Picking the Wrong Measures in Education”

  1. David Black

    This is really no different that being mindful about other things, such as the use of technology in schools and in our personal lives. The more we see things changing, the more we need to emphasize critical evaluation schools for ourselves and our profession.

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