I had the opportunity to catch up on Homeland last night (no spoilers, don’t worry), and it reminded me that volumes of data rarely bring the clarity that we pursue. In the episode, Carrie (she’s the main character) is pouring over data to trying to figure out the solution to a multi-faceted problem with potentially no true solution. She has data all over the walls. She has charts, graphs, and images. There are arrows, lines, and circles attempting to thread these things together. In the end, it leads to a huge mess of layered data that generates a solution so far from the truth that it leads Carrie astray. She is left with a perceived clarity and a reality no closer to the truth.
Educators around the country are falling into this trap as well. Recently, I walked into another data room with color-coded cards surrounding those that enter. The data included reading and math scores and levels of achievement based on multiple tests taken by the students. The cards were color coded, labeled, and neatly displayed. All of this data corresponded to another set of data that was available on-line based on the performance of students from an adaptive test that gathered more data about more discrete variables in the learning process. Bathed in data, teachers, often with little or no understanding of statistical significance of data points or basic psychometrician skills, take to these numbers with a fervor. They develop solutions. They have meetings. They talk about kids in a disconnected way with their data at the core of the child instead of their soul.
We have layered so many data points into the teaching field that we aren’t providing a clear way forward that is sensible, clear, and with impact. We are layering data into our work in a way that tries to prove more is more instead of recognizing that we have a delicate recipe with artisan ingredients instead of a big pot of stew where more meat, more potatoes, and more vegetables feeds more people. We need a new data revolution in education that understands that the right data in the right moment beats having all of the data, all of the time.