Data-Driven Instruction

As I peruse the positions offered by the New York State and New Jersey Departments of Education, I see in almost every ad one of the reasons I resigned from public education: data-driven instruction. What was the first thing your professor said to your class of aspiring power brokers in Statistics 101: “There are lies, there are damn lies, and then there are statistics.”

Instruction is always driven by two things and two things only: the students’ needs and the students’ capacities. That’s it. We can all go home now. But let’s look at what data-driven instruction could possibly mean. Ostensibly, it means that educators and administrators can use student performance, i.e. grades, as the criterion for what should be taught in the classroom and how it should be taught. This seems reasonable. The operative word here is “seems.”

The quintessential example of why this does not work is the vaunted Common Core Standards Initiative. The students were underperforming. So naturally, it only made sense to require only higher order thinking tasks (i.e. no memorization of times tables or learning how to spell, etc.), increase the workload, and make the exams more difficult (only testing higher order thinking skills). Now our streets are teeming with geniuses. Not quite.

The Common Core is doomed to failure because, as is always the case with everything our educational leaders do, it ignores the students. If a student doesn’t understand a math problem, you break it down into digestible components and explain it in terms that the student can understand. You don’t give him/her ten more problems that are even more difficult, assign more homework, and administer exams that he/she has no chance of understanding, let alone passing. The situation requires less work and more time, not more work and less time. I understand this. I know that you understand it. How can it be that educators, administrators, and politicians always get this wrong? They would almost have to be trying to fail.

An even easier example of the disingenuous intentions behind data-driven instruction is the graduation rate. The powers that be love to cite rising graduation rates as an indication that we have turned some kind of educational corner. What these rates actually measure is the plummeting standards for graduation. Our students simply do not have to know or do anything anymore.

So why are our educational leaders insisting on data-driven instruction? The answer is obvious. Producing numbers is a much easier way to justify a salary than producing an educated student. After all, someone had to be doing something in order to produce all those pages upon pages of data. Let’s not kid ourselves. There are no more teachers in our public schools. They have all been coerced into becoming data entry technicians for their administrators. And our students…

by John DePonte

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