Don’t “Get Lost in the Numbers”

41-1I was cleaning  out old links and came across this wonderful editorial from the Eau Claire Leader Telegram.  It really really does a great job of explaining what is wrong with the “data driven” numbers obsessed educational policy decision-making and providing some perspective.  Here is the whole thing:

Editorial: As school year starts, don’t get numbed by numbers

When observing our educational system through the lens of the media, it’s easy to get lost in the numbers.

We’re not talking about the numbers kids will find in multiplication tables and quadratic equations when they return to classrooms in the Chippewa Valley this week; we mean the kind of numbers that make headlines.

There are the good numbers, such as standardized test scores, which typically show local schools meeting and exceeding state and national averages.

There are bad numbers as well – unfortunately, too many of them: the millions that are perpetually being cut from school budgets because of state aid shortfalls, not to mention the compensation numbers of a certain Eau Claire school district administrator most in the community wish would just go away.

On top of this, there are confusing, ambiguous numbers – those used to calculate allowable increases in teachers’ salary and benefits packages, for instance, or those mysterious ones known as “mill rates” – the kind that drive endless political debates and generate hard feelings among educators, taxpayers and elected officials.

All of these numbers are important, which is why you’ll find them in the pages of this newspaper. However, focusing on the numbers alone can distract our attention from other parts of the educational equation. To put it another way, if we focus only on the ‘rithmatic, we forget about the readin’ and ‘ritin’.

Measuring, tabulating and trying to improve test scores is important to education, but that’s far from the mind of a kindergartner who can’t wait to use his brand new box of crayons on the first day of school.

School budgets and the decisions that shape them are vital too, but so is the pride of an elementary student who has finished her first chapter book, the joy of a middle-schooler tackling a novel, or the excitement of a high school student unfolding Shakespearean sonnets.

Likewise, while it’s necessary to ensure our educators are paid in a way that’s fair to them and the taxpayers, it’s also necessary to acknowledge and support teachers as they inspire young people to learn, work hard and express themselves.

And though community residents deserve honest school administrators and elected school board members, we shouldn’t let the numbers games some people have played undercut our support for the goal of our educational system: producing good citizens capable of improving their own and others’ lives.

The 2009 school year is a brand-new spiral-bound notebook. May the numbers and letters that fill it in the coming months tell a positive story.

– Tom Giffey, editorial page editor

Thomas J. Mertz

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Filed under Arne Duncan, Best Practices, education, Gimme Some Truth, Local News

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