Data Bound and Data Gagged: How Teachers are Made Ineffectual and Silent

Now, data when utilized properly is an awesomely empowering assessment tool. In special education, for example, a child with severe developmental delays, who requires assistance in learning activities of daily living, can be incredibly serviced with proper usage of data. Data collection can show the frequency with which the student is successful at, say, washing his/her hands or applying toothpaste to a toothbrush without assistance, or the number of successful trips to the toilet. In more common circumstances data collection can manifest as the tried and true spelling and math test scores that we all fearfully awaited as students, or can be used more proactively (and less quantifiably) to assess how many (and which) students need to have a lesson revisited and clarified before a unit is closed. This kind of data collection is based in informing instruction of the part of the teacher for the benefit of their charges and their classroom as a whole.

There is of course a completely different kind of data that can be collected as well. More quantifiable kinds of data that, most assuredly, can be applied in classrooms, schools, districts, and systems to a certain degree with successful results and thoughtful, informative implementation and rehabilitation at the big gear level of educational clockwork. This kind of data, however, tends to be more reflective of, and has its origin in, commercial and industrial contexts. They tend to be quantitative assessments of productivity in manufacturing, for example, an area where a product is created—usually along an assembly line—with interchangeable parts and a very definitive highly reproducible end product. The methods that are used and implemented to yield that highly reproducible end product are repetitious and distilled to a science where most variables are accounted for and balanced. This is where the application of the business model on the education system starts to unravel.

Both liberal and conservative politicians along with big wigs have adopted the mindset that applying business strategies is somehow the best route to the reformation of the American education system. As such, they have endeavored upon becoming the Eli Whitneys and Henry Fords of pedagogy; looking to make all teachers interchangeable with the instating of rigid programs and kill and drill testing, hoping to produce students that fall somewhere between the Model T and a Stepford Wife in terms of standardization and compliance. The problem lies within the incredibly complex nature of the human condition. People are not screws nor is education an assembly line. The top down edicts to quantifiably assess student achievement and teacher effectiveness overlook—or more accurately ignore—the most important premise of education: students are human beings. People have idiosyncratic needs and journey along a, yes, predictable spectrum of skills acquisition in most cases but still require their specific and particular needs to be met to progress along that spectrum at a pace determined by their inherent ability.

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