I was thinking the other day about Proficiency Based Learning. I was thinking about the reams and reams of data that we’re now required to assess and report. We’re spending hours and hours recording and posting data . . . But why? Who really cares?
Supposedly it’s for parents, students, and us. But students are mostly indifferent, if not confused, the parents are definitely confused, if not indifferent, and the last thing we educators are going to say to ourselves is, “I just spent six hours entering grades. You know what I’m going to do now? Thoughtfully mull over the data for a few more hours! Let’s see if this’ll lead to divorce.”
Even I can’t decipher students’ report cards anymore — there’s too much data. It’s like my Verizon bill, except without the “being ripped off” part. Don’t give me eight pages of indecipherable fine print. There’s something dishonest about it. It’s like they’re saying, “Hey, don’t blame us when you finally learn that we’re extorting you! It was right there all along on page 72b.”
Our new proficiency report cards aren’t quite that bad. If anything, they’re coming from the opposite place. It’s like we’re saying, “Okay, okay, here’s EVERYTHING POSSIBLE that we can measure — we’re going to publish it ALL. Nothing being hidden here, okay? We’re being COMPLETELY TRANSPARENT!”
Because we educators suffer from some serious professional anxiety when it comes to accountability. After all, that’s been the watchword of every reform for the past twenty years. No Child Left Behind was supposed to “hold schools accountable.” The idea was, collect all the data on how every sub-group is doing. Then — publish it. Shame the losers into doing better by labeling them. More publishing. If that doesn’t work, fire them.
It didn’t improve education. But it certainly had an effect on teachers. Many lost jobs. Some lost their schools. Some were even sent to prison, having been so pressured to produce that they cheated. This was all in the name of data-based accountability. Is it any wonder that now, still under the last vestiges of NCLB, even a progressive state like Vermont is falling all over itself to show how much data we can be super-transparent about?
It fits with a much wider, longer narrative, too — one in which schools get blamed a lot, whether it’s because America is losing the space race (we took the hit for Sputnik), the world economy to Japan (A Nation at Risk, 1983), the fight for racial equality (NCLB in the early 2000s), or the world economy again (see statements by “Duncan, Arne”). We know we’re going to be blamed for the problems, and that we’re never going to get credit for the good stuff (such as the tech boom of the 1990s — no one ever seemed to give us credit for that).
That’s why, I believe, we now feel compelled to push out mountains of data to our students, through the wonderfully “transparent” online gradebook, updated (ideally) to the hour. We’re so scared of being labeled “unaccountable” that we might as well set up a system that gives everyone everything on a kid at all times. Be transparent. Give ’em the data — on everything.
Sure, it comes from a noble place. You could even say that we didn’t come up with this system consciously in order to justify ourselves.
But then again, we didn’t come up with this system, did we?
We never do.