As a school administrator, I get dozens of emails a week from companies selling programs designed to facilitate any number of "school reform" efforts. I put "school reform" in quotes the way someone might put air quotes around "day off" when they are going to spend the day with their toddler.
As a long-time student and fan of Deborah Meier and Ted Sizer, I get a little sensitive around the phrase "school reform". In my mind, real school reform is about democratizing schools, caring about students, and designing rigorous curricula that is meant to ignite passion and inspire action.
I typically gloss over at the various emails that show up in my inbox: "more effective drug testing", "increase student test scores", "foster creativity under the common core", "using technology to reach all students", etc. I have spent the past almost 20 years working as a member and facilitator of professional learning communities, and I am convinced that a structured conversation, facilitated by a skilled coach, around a topic that is important to all members of the school community, is what will lead to real school reform. Not the kind with quotes around it.
So I was taken aback at a recent email from a well-known educational association that was titled "Build a Data Culture to Promote Academic Growth."
A "data culture". Ummm….no thanks. The culture I am working to build is about asking questions and listening. It's about knowing the whole student and making appropriate decisions that are in that student's best interest as a human being. The culture I am building is about trust and risk-taking. It's about asking teachers to share their most troubling work with eachother in an effort to gain more perspective and deeper insights.
I regularly use data as a framework for many of these collegial conversations. But what I want to build would not be considered a "data culture".
The term "culture" originally meant the cultivation of the soul or mind. Cicero believed that this cultivation was the highest possible ideal for human development. We have much building to do in our schools with regards to culture. A culture of respect, caring, decency, fairness, honesty, inquiry, reflection, to name a few, is still lacking for so many of our students. I have a hard time believing that a "data culture" is going to lead to any real school reform, at least not the kind without quotation marks around it.