Students can’t learn if they don’t attend classes. That’s why the Chicago school district is spending part of $20 million in federal money and part of another $7 million in local money over the next three years to wake up chronic latecomers. In a front-page story, The Wall Street Journal detailed how the system operates (“School Reform, Chicago Style,” Jun. 25).
I commend district officials for their efforts, but I wonder why their program is necessary in the first place. Isn’t education supposed to be a partnership between school and home? If so, where are the parents of these students? Why does the responsibility for habitual tardiness and absenteeism fall solely on the shoulders of schools? More specifically, why are teachers being saddled with responsibilities that should be carried out by parents?
Chicago school officials say they feel pressured to engage in what is called data mining. Virtually every aspect of the school experience from incidences of student misconduct to texting to fighting is logged in and then analyzed. Such data collection is the predictable result of quantification. Although Houston schools used this approach, Chicago has taken it to new heights.
This obsession is not limited to students. Teachers are also the subject of numbers crunching. Test scores, of course, are the No. 1 focus. But one third of teachers also said they felt pressured to change student grades, partly because of the emphasis on data, according to the Chicago Teachers Union. Moreover, the quantity and quality of their interactions with students are scrutinized. Exactly how administrators intend to measure this factor is unclear.
Data are important. However, data should be used to inform education, rather than to drive it. Right now, data have taken on a life of their own to the detriment of everything else. As Albert Einstein wrote: “Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.”
The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.