Nate Silver [Controlling the uncontrollable]

Hey John, Let me highlight my colleague Sabrina Stevens’ latest post on GOOD Magazine really quickly: This strikes at the heart of why we’re so enamored with standardizing, predicting, and controlling things. “Data” seduces us into thinking we can predict and control things that are frequently unpredictable and uncontrollable, and therefore scary. We can’t really […]

Hey John,

Let me highlight my colleague Sabrina Stevens’ latest post on GOOD Magazine really quickly:

This strikes at the heart of why we’re so enamored with standardizing, predicting, and controlling things. “Data” seduces us into thinking we can predict and control things that are frequently unpredictable and uncontrollable, and therefore scary. We can’t really test our way into guaranteeing that 100 percent of America’s students will be destined for Yale instead of jail. But pretending we can is a heckuva lot easier than re-engineering the needlessly cutthroat, winner-take-all society that’s really putting our kids “at-risk.”

Silly humans.

As a data specialist, I often find myself thinking of how hard we work to find abstractions of things we can’t quantify. We try to equate learning into achievement, because points matter so much more than the amorphous shifting of ideas into and through our minds. We put things in spreadsheets, click a bunch of buttons, and make predictions based on pieces that don’t always fit together.

On the same coin, the research (hard research, verified time and again) shows how many opportunities we miss by not investing in our students, academically and socio-emotionally. Whether in online learning spaces or brick and mortar schools, we already know that children want a place where they not only feel comfortable and safe with their teacher, they also want to feel challenged, as if their intellectual capabilities bring value.

As hard as we try, we can’t control data when it comes to student learning. We can predict with certainty based on research. We can even issue a set of best practices. But, unlike, say, a national election based on one day, we can’t predict with the certainty of a Nate Silver how our students will do, because so much of this depends on far too many factors.

We can keep as many sheets in a binder as we wish, but it won’t matter unless we can elevate the conversation about our students, ensuring that we have a cohesive belief about the way schools should run. One of those ideas ought to be making sure we de-emphasize data and re-emphasize the intangibles. Like learning, for example.

image c/o: http://timetoeatthedogs.com/2008/11/14/nate-silver-baseball-analyst-prophet-of-the-galactic-empire/

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