Why Data Has Not Fixed the Education System

Simon Rodberg, who is the founding principal of the District of Columbia International School, wrote an insightful piece in Harvard Business Review entitled “Data Was Supposed to Fix the U.S. Education System, Here’s Why It Hasn’t.”

Some excerpts:

The cure is worse than the disease:

The big numbers are necessary, but the more they proliferate, the less value they add. Data-based answers lead to further data-based questions, testing, and analysis; and the psychology of leaders and policymakers means that the hunt for data gets in the way of actual learning. The drive for data responded to a real problem in education, but bad thinking about testing and data use has made the data cure worse than the disease.

Missing the forest through the trees.

We’ve slid from a reasonable, necessary, straightforward question — are the students learning? — to the current state of education leadership: where school leaders and policy-makers expect too much of data, over-test student learning to the detriment of learning itself, and get lost in their abundance of numbers.

What we’ve really learned from “data-driven reform.”

We wanted data to help us get past the problem of too many students learning too little, but it turns out that data is an insufficient, even misleading answer. It’s possible that all we’ve learned from our hyper-focus on data is that better instruction won’t come from more detailed information, but from changing what people do. That’s what data-driven reform is meant for, of course: convincing teachers of the need to change and focusing where they need to change.

Money quote:

Don’t try to turn teachers into data analysts; try, instead, to help them be better teachers.

Read the whole piece.

5 thoughts on “Why Data Has Not Fixed the Education System

  1. I read the complete article. What is his answer to “…help them to be better teachers?” The ideology of teaching methods that is veering into social emotional learning and social justice activism and away from classical academics is a mine field as deeply damaging within U.S. education as the money-making industry that promotes a data-driven ideology.


    • so many buzz words. How can we challenge our school boards and admin to see this for what it is? A giant money grab without any evidence that this is actually helping our kids.


  2. There is a foundational problem far deeper than the proliferation of data: standardized tests that are used by most DOEs to generate a significant amount of the data to which you refer are designed specifically to generate normal distribution curves so that psychometricians can perform their statistical magic, but these tests are NOT designed to measure mastery of what students should know and be able to do! “Mastery” tests, in a world where what is tested is what is taught based upon specific outcomes, generate J-curves, which is what every teacher, and cumulatively, every school should be aiming for. This is NOT the early Twentieth Century when reformers, enthralled by NDCs, decided that schools should be used to set kids. That century-old and dysfunctional mentality is alive and well in DOEs across the country and is continuing to hurt students and teachers because it is impossible to master anything based on a bell-curve. Politicians and media types still do not understand this, and until they do, we will continue, as a profession, to spin our wheels. It is not just the lunacy of being inundated by data; it is the lunacy of using inappropriate data.


  3. is there a national forum for parents/community members to unite to ask hard questions to school districts who continue to buy into this expensive “personalized learning”? Help! Grand Junction, CO.


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