The Tyranny of the Datum

About John Kuhn

John Kuhn is a public school administrator in Texas and a vocal advocate for public education. His ''Alamo Letter'' and YouTube videos of his 2011 speech at a Save Texas Schools rally went viral, as did his 2012 essay ''The Exhaustion of the American Teacher.'' He has written two education-related books, 2013's Test-and-Punish (Park Place Publications) and 2014's Fear and Learning in America (Teachers College Press).

3. Data is useful for correcting course, but it is also useful for charting a course straight for the iceberg. Data, like fire and shotguns, is neither intrinsically good nor bad. In fact, like fire and shotguns, it can be a life-saver when used properly in the right circumstances, and it can be deadly when used improperly in the wrong circumstances. Teachers and parents who get labeled “anti-testing” (because, again, nuance is hard) are often not at all against testing. The vast majority of the so-called “anti-testing” teachers give tests in their classrooms. So it isn’t the test that motivates much of the opposition to reform. And it isn’t the data, either. It’s the fact that many, many stakeholders don’t trust the people hoovering up the data to use–they presume, because of their experience with the school reform movement as it has unfolded–against students, teachers, and schools. The vocal opposition we see to data collection efforts like inBloom, to curriculum standards (which define the data to be collected) like the Common Core, and to tests (the data source) like the MAP can all be traced back, largely, to two things: (1) dismay over how much class time is sacrificed for the all-encompassing data hunt, and (2) a foundational mistrust regarding the aims of those who gather and control the data. If your dad brings home a new baseball bat, it’s a pretty happy time in the family–unless your dad has been in the habit of beating the family with blunt objects. Data is that baseball bat. A better analogy might be a doctor who causes his patients pain unnecessarily with his medical equipment. Patients are naturally going to resist going in for procedures that the doctor says are “good for them” if they know it will come with excessive pain. There is a vigorous campaign online and in the papers and political buildings to discredit opponents of school reform as just so many Chicken Littles “defending the status quo” and sticking their heads in the sand. A salient question, though, is this: has the sector-controlling school reform movement, going back to the dawn of No Child Left Behind, wielded data honestly, ethically, and constructively? If not, then yeah, there will be resistance. These people aren’t Chicken Littles. They’re Chickens Who Won’t Get in the Pot. The deeper the mistrust, the more vocal the resistance.

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About the Author:

John Kuhn is a public school administrator in Texas and a vocal advocate for public education. His ''Alamo Letter'' and YouTube videos of his 2011 speech at a Save Texas Schools rally went viral, as did his 2012 essay ''The Exhaustion of the American Teacher.'' He has written two education-related books, 2013's Test-and-Punish (Park Place Publications) and 2014's Fear and Learning in America (Teachers College Press).

2 Comments

  1. […] promised in a recent post called The Tyranny of the Datum to write about some guiding standards for appropriate data usage, in the spirit of Isaac […]

  2. […] In our case, “it” became data and a desire to see how kids were performing. It has quickly spun out of control , and in the case of Tennessee, it has led to us currently conducting tests that we have […]

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