Childhood Real Education

Steve Nelson: The Danger of Measuring the Wrong Things

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Steve Nelson laments the current policies in education, which are secretly tied to measurement and data. These are the policies cook up by economists, he says, not educators.

Educators seek development, not accountability. What matters most can not be measured.

He writes:

“Measure the wrong things and you’ll get the wrong behaviors.

“This simple statement succinctly characterizes why the American education system continues beating its head against the wall.”

And he writes:

“After nearly 20 years of reading, observing, teaching and presiding over a school, I’m convinced that this simple statement — “Measure the wrong things and you’ll get the wrong behaviors” — is at the root of what ails education, from cradle to grave. Measuring the wrong thing (standardized scores of 4th graders) drives the wrong behaviors (lots of test prep and dull direct instruction). In later school years, measuring the wrong thing (SAT and other standardized test scores, grade point averages, class rank) continues to invite the wrong behaviors (gaming the system, too much unnecessary homework, suppression of curiosity, risk-aversion, high stress).

“Measuring the right things is more complicated and less profitable. But if we measured, even if only in our hearts, the things that we should truly value (creativity, joy, physical and emotional health, self-confidence, humor, compassion, integrity, originality, skepticism, critical capacities), we would engage in a very different set of behaviors (reading for pleasure, boisterous discussions, group projects, painting, discovery, daydreaming, recess, music, cooperation rather than competition).”

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