Tired of the tyranny of data

Note: I originally wrote this post a month ago, but in the meantime lost my computer.

Last night, I woke up in my hotel room and I needed to use the bathroom.  I got out of bed and took a step, slamming my knee against the nightstand—Ouch!

With this important piece of data, I was able to decide that I should make a change.  Turning right, I began to walk.  Three steps later, I banged into the dresser—Whomp!

With this important piece of data, I was able to decide that I should make a change.  I backed up a step and turned right again.  With only one step, I found that the bathroom door was also closed— Thud!

With this important piece of data, I was able to decide that I should make a change.  Using my hand, I turned the knob, opened the door and stepped through—victory was mine.

When I told this story to my buddy Noah the next day, he asked, sagely, “Why didn’t you turn on the lights?”

Why don’t we turn on the lights when we are trying to transform our schools?

I’m tired of the tyranny of data.  When my school began our reform process, I was deeply afraid that all our work would be for naught.  My teacher team put hundreds of summertime hours into designing a new school experience for our children.  During the school year, we put in even more extra hours (and no small amount of blood, sweat, and tears) trying to facilitate an entirely new learning experience for our students.  I was deeply afraid that after only one year of implementation, our data (i.e., test scores) would not have improved enough and that it would drive us in yet another new direction.

When we let data drive our planning and decision making this way, we stumble into the same mentality as a fat guy on a fad diet.  Unless we see near-instant, near-miraculous change with small schools, or small learning communities, or project-based learning, or computer-adaptive education, or flipped classroom, then we rush off to the next conference, listen to the next guru, and embark on the next fad.

Next time my principal or an edu-guru expounds the virtues of “data-driven decision making” I think I just might ask, “Why don’t we turn on the lights?”

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