Thanks for pointing out Sabrina’s Good post. I would not have caught in the midst of my daily grind and finishing up my graduate work. The key phrase I took away from her post was when Sabrina said, “the education-supporting public more generally must become more comfortable with ambiguity and unknowns.” I don’t necessarily agree.
The point of the data points for the general public really seems to be, “How do we identify great (or bad) teachers?” (Depending on your narrative frame). I don’t think that is the question we really need to be asking. I think we really need to ask the follow-up question, “If this is a good teacher what are they doing that is different?” I think this is where the ambiguity is; in why we want and need data.
I use data all the time in my classroom. It is valuable and helps me to be a more effective teacher. If I were a principal or superintendent, or policy maker I think I would feel the same way. I think the ambiguity that would surprise most of the general public is that many teachers “do” the same thing and get different results. I used to teach letters, using the exact same songs as hundreds of thousands of teachers, but my assessment gain scores with my urban African American students in the spring were higher for my kids than other teachers who used the same songs. Why? In looking to find out why the results are different I think we might discover that the difference is in the intangible questions like, “why do I teach”, “who am I as a teacher”, “how does this teacher relate to students and or parents”, or even, “who does this teacher think he/she is?” This is where the data points become blurry. It is also where qualitative methods of data collection become important. In your post you said,
We can keep as many sheets in a binder as we wish, but it won’t matter unless we can elevate the conversation about our students, ensuring that we have a cohesive belief about the way schools should run. One of those ideas ought to be making sure we de-emphasize data and re-emphasize the intangibles. Like learning, for example.
Elevating the conversation is an apt way to talk about the struggle between the two narratives education maintains. Data points are supposed to represent ground level information but test scores don’t necessarily represent what is happening between students and teachers. We do need to elevate the conversation and I think we can by digging deeper and asking teachers, “Why”. Maybe we need to de-emphasize the quantitative data and start emphasizing the qualitative. I wonder what would happen if we started using teacher self reflection as a measure of effectiveness? Oh wait, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards already does that.
So, as form of post script: Congratulations to all those teachers who received their NBCT status this past week, thank you for making “Why” important.
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84(2), 191-215.