Sunday, October 27, 2013

Data-driven instruction and the waning light

The "pond"

I spent a chilly few minutes yesterday pulling out some elodea from the pond to take to school--each time I pull up a garland, I let it drip a bit over the pond, wondering about the lives of the critters found in each drop.

(I worry about the few drops that hit the ground.)

When I start to think I am losing my mind thinking about these critters, I peek at a drop or two under my microscope, and see, once again, the dance of foreign life doing familiar things.

That's enough data analysis to remind me why I teach.

If we're going to preach data-driven instruction, and use it to take us to the Holy Land, we need to agree on whose Holy Land matters. And my Holy Land includes the critters I kill every time I take a step.
The gargoyle guarding the pond.
If you're alive, it's impossible not to see ourselves in the living around us.
If we see ourselves in the living around us, we care more about the world.
The abstract has no meaning when torn from the earth.

Being alive is a big part of being human, though you'd be hard-pressed to see evidence of this in our data-driven world culture.

It's late October, the morning glories in the shadows stay open through the day.  The dead will be dancing in the shadows soon. The world freezes over, and our children are taught not to notice.

The morning glory knows.

Good thing, too--if the children could see what we're stealing from them, they'd never sit still long enough to take the PISA's, the HSPAs, the NJASKs, the PARCCs, the SATs, the AP exams..

I'm still naive enough to believe the point of education is to help young'uns find their paths to thoughtful, productive, and happy lives. There's plenty more data to be found at the edge of a pond than under the flicker of fluorescent lamps.

But this data-driven nonsense isn't about accountability, or data, or education at all.
So I will keep teaching and keep praying, both for children and for the critters found in a drop of pond water the children no longer know exist.

The last of the hops flowers

You cannot dance if you're thinking too hard (or at all) about the rhythm.


Sue VanHattum said...

Michael, I'm re-reading Dreaming the Dark right now. I think you'd like it.

Malcolm Chrystal said...


Anonymous said...

As department chair, I try to run interference for my teachers with administration. A contentious e-mail came down this week about...well, about accessing the various electronic databases our district spends a boatload of money on rather than giving raises to teachers (one small raise in the last five years).

Many of them are incensed and I went to talk to my admin boss yesterday. She feels the same as we do and feels the same pressures, just from higher in the food chain. Yes, it is becoming all about the data.

My personal thesis is that this is because many of the lead honcho education "reformers" are mostly numbers types of folks (yes, I'm looking at you Bill Gates) and they are only interested in things that can be quantified.

While you have been having your students look down, mine have been looking up. Four days this week, I set up a couple of telescopes before school to observe Jupiter, the waning crescent Moon and the great nebula in Orion. During school, I took them outside to look at the Sun with eclipse glasses and a solar filtered telescope.

I bought 100 pairs of the eclipse glasses (I have 179 astronomy students) in anticipation of the partial solar eclipse of the rising Sun this coming Sunday (appropriately enough). You should have a most wonderful view of the event yourself as I assume sunrises over the ocean come with your location.

The exclamations most of my students utter when looking at something through a telescope for the first time are a tonic to old, cynical me. Yes, these kids can still be amazed when shown how unfamiliar the familiar can be when looked at in a different way.

Susan Eckert said...

I find this whole data-driven approach to be extremely depressing. I love data; I was trained in the sciences. I love evidence; we should not accept claims whether they be political or scientific or ed reform without evidence.

But something is just not right here. The data that the ed reformers drool over (including what's going on in my district) do not have the integrity of the data that even an elementary school student would collect in a simple lab done in the classroom.

I know this but I cannot figure out a way (yet) to eloquently and concisely make my case. I suppose because we need to clearly understand exactly what the data are telling us. And how it's collected. And the true goal of collecting the data. There are too many confounding variables I think. And no easy answers. But ed reformers want easy answers and the public generally wants this, too.

But your post is wonderful. And captures what really matters. It's unfortunate that many people in positions of power cannot see this. But, I'll teach with meaning and passion despite of all the new mandates. It's just getting increasingly difficult to do so.

doyle said...

Dear Sue,

I will take a peek. Not familiar with it....

Dear Malcolm,

I have little problem with either when used appropriately. I do not like them jammed sideways up my orifices, though.

Dear cope,

I share your sympathy with admins--a strong admin will take into account the effect of enforcing impossible tasks on morale, and act accordingly.

A decent telescope does put things in perspective. (I could have used a pair of those glasses--forgot mine this morning, ended up using an old CD.)

Dear Susan,

Chris Cerf (our Ed Commish for those of you outside Jersey) told me he is a numbers guy. He's either being disingenuous or he's confused, but either causes tremendous damage.

If we were talking to numbers people who truly sought solutions, we could easily make the case.

Thanks for the warm words.