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“Not everything that matters can be measured”

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The Math Problem is a very interesting post from author Jonah Lehrer on the dangers of being “data-driven.”

It’s focus is on sports statistics, which these days are called “sabermetrics,” but I think it can easily be applied to other areas, including education.

Here’s an excerpt:

Here’s my problem with sabermetrics — it’s a useful tool that feels like the answer. If we were smarter creatures, of course, we wouldn’t get seduced by the numbers. We’d remember that not everything that matters can be measured, and that success in sports (not to mention car shopping) is shaped by a long list of intangibles….

But that’s not what happens. Instead, coaches and fans use the numbers as an excuse to ignore everything else, which is why our obsession with sabermetrics can lead to such shortsighted personnel decisions. After all, there is no way to quantify the fierce attitude of a team that feels slighted, or the way even the best players can be undone by the burden of expectations, or how Kendrick Perkins meant more to the Celtics than his rebounding stats might suggest.

For reasons that remain mysterious, some teammates make each other much better and some backup point guards really piss off Ron Artest. These are the qualities that often determine wins and losses, and yet they can’t be found on the back of a trading card or translated into a short list of clever equations. This is the paradox of sports statistics: What the math ends up teaching us that is that sports are not a math problem.

Can you measure helping to ignite a student’s desire to want to continue to learn about U.S. History? Can you measure the impact on a student of seeing an adult model handling conflict calmly? Can you measure the effect of a student beginning to learn the basics of self-control for the first time?

I’m adding this post to The Best Resources Showing Why We Need To Be “Data-Informed” & Not “Data-Driven.”

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

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