Panel Discussion: Education Writers Association Conference

The Education Writers Association’s Diving into Data conference was even more fun than the name suggests. The reporters asked all the right questions, and I am proud to say I managed to sneak three Kim Kardashian references into my speech – probably a record for a panel on education data. I also made a few other points, summarized below.

 

  1. Teachers are increasingly worried that the push for data-driven decision-making is causing schools to make shortsighted decisions. Data can be helpful in some contexts. However, the push to translate everything that happens in schools and classrooms into track-able numbers is combined with a push to attach high stakes to these numbers. The result is often measurements that affect instruction more than they reflect instruction.
  2. Even though data is often used to make judgments about teacher quality, teachers are almost never asked to make judgments about data quality.
  3. Half-true political talking points are increasingly presented as data-based “facts.” In addition, many “data-based” talking points are phrased in such a way that anyone who argues with them seems lazy, racist, or incompetent.
  4. There is a sense among teachers that we are simply out-gunned when it comes to knowing how talk to the media. Teachers are often reluctant to talk to reporters and comment on record in stories because our reputations are fragile. Especially in today’s climate, teachers are terrified of answering a reporter’s questions and then being used as the example of the bad teacher who is “leaving children behind” and “making excuses” about it.

In true teacher form, I made a handout: common talking points that rely on the assumption that there is valid data to back them up. It explains what each point is meant to suggest, what it might be leaving out glossing over, and what follow up questions journalists may want to ask. You can download it here.

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