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The New York Times Has Discovered The Perils Of Being Data-Driven — I Just Wish Arne Duncan Would, Too

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I have written regularly about the dangers of being “data-driven” instead of being “data-informed.” In fact, I have a lengthy, and popular, post titled The Best Resources Showing Why We Need To Be “Data-Informed” & Not “Data-Driven.”

Here’s my previously posted summary of how our school’s extraordinary principal, Ted Appel, explains the difference:

If schools are data-driven, they might make decisions like keeping students who are “borderline” between algebra and a higher-level of math in algebra so that they do well in the algebra state test. Or, in English, teachers might focus a lot of energy on teaching a “strand” that is heavy on the tests — even though it might not help the student become a life-long reader. In other words, the school can tend to focus on its institutional self-interest instead of what’s best for the students.

In schools that are data-informed, test results are just one more piece of information that can be helpful in determining future directions.

Today, The New York Times has published an extensive article headlined Sure, Big Data Is Great. But So Is Intuition. I’m just going to share a few excerpts here that can easily apply to some of the damage data-driven “school reform” efforts are doing to us:

Claudia Perlich, chief scientist at Media6Degrees, an online ad-targeting start-up in New York, puts the problem this way: “You can fool yourself with data like you can’t with anything else……

…..A major part of managing Big Data projects, he says, is asking the right questions: How do you define the problem? What data do you need? Where does it come from? What are the assumptions behind the model that the data is fed into? How is the model different from reality?

…..It’s encouraging that thoughtful data scientists like Ms. Perlich and Ms. Schutt recognize the limits and shortcomings of the Big Data technology that they are building. Listening to the data is important, they say, but so is experience and intuition. After all, what is intuition at its best but large amounts of data of all kinds filtered through a human brain rather than a math model?

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

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

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