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Thompson: The Problem With Hyper-Rational Policy Wonks

Drowning_data_quinn-anya Larry Cuban reminds us that data-driven instruction has been tried before, under the name of "measurement instruction" -- without much success.  Cuban then criticizes "reformers" for "rationality on steroids,"  a hyper-technocratic way of looking at things which fails to take emotions into account.  "Emotions, however,  are what get practitioners, not policymakers, over the inevitable potholes on the road to reform success."  Cuban also cites research by the IES What Works Clearinghouse which explains why the new silver bullet is not likely to be more successful than the old ones.  After examining 490 studies of data-driven instruction, the IES concluded that only six showed evidence of effectiveness, and their levels of evidence were low.  Why can we not admit the obvious truth of Cuban's conclusion, "Numbers may smell scientific. But we give meaning to these numbers?"-JT(@drjohnthompson)Image via.


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The problem with "hyper-rational" policy wonks is that they aren't moved by rationality at all. Wonks work for whoever pays them. Microsoft's profits drive Gates, not the window-dressing ideological mash he buys from his wonks on Scholastic and Edweek.

Data doesn't drive the data-gathering industry. They might have been irrational at the beginning of the industry's takover drive on public education, when they told themselves "It can't be worse than the status quo." They irrationally assumed they'd have some data they could massage. There had to be some "improvements" somewhere, out in the marketplace of innovations.

Now that data has revealed itself, they know what they are doing, and do it anyway. That's rational, if they can win the golden-goose profit-machine prize. So, they just have to lose, and then we can have rational discussions.

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