The New Stupid

Author: Rick Hess

24 Dec 11
Category:

Abstract

Today's enthusiastic embrace of data has waltzed us directly from a petulant resistance to performance measures to a reflexive and unsophisticated reliance on a few simple metrics--namely, graduation rates, expenditures, and the reading and math test scores of students in grades 3 through 8. The result has been a nifty pirouette from one troubling mind-set to another; with nary a misstep, we have pivoted from the "old stupid" to the "new stupid."

Just before he went on Christmas vacation Rick Hess wrote a series of three blogs about ' the new stupid'. This is a summary of his key points.

Today's enthusiastic embrace of data has waltzed us directly from a petulant resistance to performance measures to a reflexive and unsophisticated reliance on a few simple metrics--namely, graduation rates, expenditures, and the reading and math test scores of students in grades 3 through 8. The result has been a nifty pirouette from one troubling mind-set to another; with nary a misstep, we have pivoted from the "old stupid" to the "new stupid."

In the first two articles, Hess identifies three elements of the new stupid as follows:

1. Using Data in Half-Baked Ways.

To explain this Hess recounts a tale of a group of policy makers who had decided to identifyi high value-added teachers and move them to the schools that aren't making AYP.  It is not this simple he reminds us.

2. Translating Research Simplistically.

For this point he provides the example of California's rather simplistic adoption of across the board class size reduction based on the STAR research, with significant negative and unintended consequences'. 

California's statewide effort created a voracious appetite for new educators, diluting teacher quality and encouraging well-off districts to strip-mine teachers from less affluent communities. The moral is that even policies or practices informed by rigorous research can prove ineffective if the translation is clumsy or ill considered.

When it comes to "research-based practice," the most vexing problem may be the failure to recognize the limits of what even rigorous scientific research can tell us.

3. Giving Short Shrift to Management Data.

For this Hess points to the almost complete absence of data for accountability that shines a light on the quality of support provided to schools.

School and district leaders have embraced student achievement data but have paid scant attention to collecting or using data that are more relevant to improving the performance of schools and school systems. The result is "data-driven" systems in which leaders give short shrift to the operations, hiring, and financial practices that are the backbone of any well-run organization and that are crucial to supporting educators.

Ultimately, student achievement data alone only yield a "black box." They illustrate how students are faring but do not enable an organization to diagnose problems or manage improvement. It is as if a CEO's management dashboard consisted of only one item--the company stock's price.

Data-driven management should not simply identify effective teachers or struggling students but should also help render schools and school systems more supportive of effective teaching and learning. Doing so requires tracking an array of indicators, such as how long it takes books and materials to be shipped to classrooms, whether schools provide students with accurate and appropriate schedules in a timely fashion, how quickly assessment data are returned to schools, and how often the data are used. A system in which leaders possess that kind of data is far better equipped to boost school performance than one in which leaders have a palette of achievement data and little else.

His final article provides advice about avoiding the new stupid

  • Do not allow data to substitute for good judgment
  • Identify data that better meets the needs identified - don't rely on the standard array - internal management is not the same as external accountability
  • Just because the data is available doesn't mean it is useful

Current conditions call to mind the parable of the drunken man crawling under the streetlight while searching for his keys. A Good Samaritan stops to help; after minutes of searching, she finally asks, "Are you sure you dropped your keys here?" The man looks up and gestures toward the other end of the street, saying, "No, I dropped them down there--but the light's better over here." We must take care that the ready availability of data on reading and math scores for grades 3 through 8 or on high school graduation rates--all of which provide useful information--do not become streetlights that distract more than they illuminate.

His conclusion:

Research and data are powerful tools. Used thoughtfully, they are dynamic levers for improving schools and schooling. In this new era, educators stand to benefit enormously from advances in research and data systems. Let us take care that hubris, faddism, or untamed enthusiasm, do not render these gifts more hindrance than help.

Available at:

http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/rick_hess_straight_up/2011/12/steering_clear_of_the_new_stupid.html

http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/rick_hess_straight_up/2011/12/more_on_the_new_stupid.html

http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/rick_hess_straight_up/2011/12/day_1_the_new_stupid.html

 

 

 

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