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Black or White - Never Any Gray

Posted By: Steve Bogdanoff on March 27, 2013
The authors' unilateral opposition to using data as a resource in the educational process typifies the myopic thinking on this subject. Noam Scheiber put it best for all K-12 educators in his book review of Nate Silver's "The Signal and the Noise": reality is relentlessly messy and genuine understanding is more than just a numbers game. If there is a more relentlessly messy reality than the process of teaching children, I haven't seen it. Clarifying that reality with data - timely, accurate, valid and authentic data - gives educators a chance to perceive the signal of trends, patterns and relationships that are key to understanding the extent of their students' learning. Good educators don't stop with quantitative data - they enrich it with vast amounts of qualitative resources (including the nuance of student-teacher relationships) that reinforce the importance of Scheiber's second point. Working as data specialists for a state department of education, my colleagues and I are charged with the responsibility of training school and district leadership to build sustainable cultures of data-informed instructional decision making. Our experience shows that when teachers use data to clarify the focus of collaborative inquiry, they have a much better chance to effectively derive important knowledge about their students and put that knowledge into meaningful action in the classroom.

Data is an essential resource for shining light on the relentlessly messy reality of teaching and learning; even while acknowledging data's importance, good educators also acknowledge that it's not about the numbers, it's about the conversations. The authors would be well-advised to see how this appropriate balance works in good schools before they craft such an all-encompassing and uninformed indictment as "commentary".

Steve Bogdanoff
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 Black or White - Never Any Gray by Steve Bogdanoff on March 27, 2013
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