Stop Data Rape!
Have you ever heard the term data-driven instruction? It’s where data is used to drive instruction. Just by itself, it isn’t clear what kind of data would be most useful, how best to collect it, how it should be used or by whom. But as long as we repeat the phrase often enough, and have lots of data being collected and laying all over the place, we’re good. No worries. Data-driven instruction is the bomb.
However, it can also trigger an aggressive kind of arousal and single-mindedness in administrators that clouds their judgment and makes them more than a little bit creepy. They’ll do some pretty nasty things to data that data would never consent to, but it gives them a thrill.
It’s time to speak up.
In order to collect and responsibly use any more than a small number of raw data points for anything, you need to follow three basic steps:
1) Research Design (foreplay): The brain is the most sensual organ. Think. What am I trying to prove, compare, evaluate, discover or explain? What kind of data will help me do this? Does this data already exist, or will I be creating it? I will be thoughtful and respectful about how I approach the data. It will be beautiful and the data will be totally into it. I just have to take my time and use my head. It’s exciting!
2) Data Collection (intercourse): I’d really like to get my hands on some data now. Like…really. And I have a good feel for what the data will go for and what it won’t. The data is pretty into it; it can’t get enough of my carefully constructed research design. I’ve figured out how to collect it and how much I need. I insure the data’s integrity and that it’s treated with respect. I know it’s going to treat me right later. Man, this data is totally digging me.
3) Statistics and Inference (cuddling): Now that the data and I are exhausted and satisfied, it’s time to clean up a little and spend some quiet time together. I have a treasure trove of disheveled data to organize and reflect upon. Our relationship grows and I learn from the data. It helps me see things I hadn’t seen before and make better decisions. I believe the data because our relationship is based on honesty and respect. I groom it and it brings order to my thoughts. What conclusions can I draw from it? Does it answer my question and how certain can I be about the answer? It will tell me its secrets.
That’s what I would do. But not my administrators. They treat data like a skinny little red-headed prison bitch. Not to pick on red-headed prison bitches…I’m imagining Carrot Top before he got mysteriously buff. Something like that.
If you aren’t doing all of these things –planning, carefully executing, and thoughtfully reflecting– you aren’t really conducting research. You’re collecting worthless data and wasting time. You certainly aren’t answering any serious questions correctly…assuming you really had any in the first place. My school short-circuited this three-step process by prematurely completing only the second step with a clumsy, inconsiderate and heavy hand:
How will I collect the data? That’s what Carrot Top and the teachers are for. How much data do I need? Lots and lots. We’re done here.
I took five quarters of calculus in college and minored in statistics. I have two masters degrees and took a dozen or more PhD-level courses in research design and econometrics. For three years I edited and pretested survey questions, coded raw data and trained and supervised the interview staff at the University of Minnesota survey research center. I guarantee I have forgotten more about research, data collection and “data analysis” than any principal I’ve worked for has ever known. But I knew that I had nothing to offer my school in this regard. Plans were made at the top and haphazardly spewed all over. That was the culture and rule. We’re done here.
I would love to have helped. If the school was really trying develop a realistic and effective data collection plan I would love to have helped. But they skipped straight to the second step, not bothering to think carefully about what they were trying to do or why. Not knowing these things made it seem less important to plan carefully for step two. The teachers will collect the data and we need lots of it. That makes the third step relatively unimportant since they didn’t understand what they had done and weren’t sure why they did it in the first place anymore. But they’re sure they need more.
I’m suddenly so tired.