Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Giant Pool of Data

I downloaded a podcast of This American Life which is
a.) cool
and then listened to it as I ran my daily jog which is
b.) double cool.
Don't know why it took me so long to glom on to this.
The first episode I received is titled The Giant Pool of Money, explaining the economic meltdown once again. Much of it I'd heard in general outlines: Money changers want money, little guy is played for willing patsy. Whole mess fails. Little guy holds the bag.
Yadda, yadda.
But this time Ira goes into more detail and starts explaining how the whole industry fooled itself by its heavy reliance on data. Data that kept saying everything is 'cool.' We can keep handing out mortgages to people without assets, or even a visible income, and it won't really hurt the investor's bottom line too much. Data which defied common sense.
The education community always lags behind the business community and now this love affair with data has invaded every level of our school systems.
Call me old fashioned, but when it comes to humans, I much prefer narrative over numbers.
The tests say: "are kids is learning" -- but at what cost?
When I invest my energies into making sure my students pass a multiple choice reading test, and they pass it, but I know they will have a hard time reading important documents like credit card agreements or a lease on an apartment have I done my job?
Data says yes! Gut says no.


  1. Mary -- thanks for highlighted this episode of TAL... I'll definitely download! There was an intriguing story in WIRED magazine some months ago about the financial formula that intoxicated so many on Wall Street. Maybe these two stories intersect. The Wired piece is called "Recipe for Disaster" -- http://sn.im/wired-recipe

  2. Now I have an i-phone!! There will be no end to my edification.

  3. Good one. I once got on an elevator, at a major national conference, while in conversation with a friend. I said "I just cannot go to another session with 'data' in the title. And I think I'll throw up if I hear 'data-driven decision-making' one more time. Teachers have always made decisions based on data--but now some data is more equal than other data."

    My companion laughed, but the two women already on the elevator exchanged glances. One was carrying a stack of identical folders. The top one was labeled "Using Data: Solving 21st Century Problems."