A ‘data-driven’ su­per­in­ten­dent won’t help Mont­gomery’s stu­dents

The Washington Post Sunday - - OPINION SUNDAY - Thad Behrens, Washington

The July 14 ed­i­to­rial “Mont­gomery’s lead­er­ship gap” missed the mark on what ails the school sys­tem. As a teacher in Mont­gomery County, I can con­firm that Mont­gomery County Public Schools has been mea­sur­ing stu­dent progress with “hard num­bers” for at least a decade and, in con­junc­tion with the mea­sures of stu­dent sat­is­fac­tion, con­tin­ued to do so through­out the ad­min­is­tra­tion of for­mer su­per­in­ten­dent Joshua P. Starr. Rather than be­la­bor the achieve­ment gap (i.e., re­sults of stan­dard­ized tests), school sys­tems should ad­dress its pri­mary cause, which is an op­por­tu­nity gap (i.e., the un­equal or in­equitable dis­tri­bu­tion of re­sources and ben­e­fits).

Fur­ther, the idea of re­plac­ing one ad­min­is­tra­tor with a more “data-driven” one is mis­lead­ing. A Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion study last year ex­am­in­ing the con­nec­tion be­tween su­per­in­ten­dents and stu­dent achieve­ment con­cluded that “hir­ing a new su­per­in­ten­dent is not as­so­ci­ated with higher stu­dent achieve­ment.” The study also re­vealed that stu­dent suc­cess does not im­prove the longer a su­per­in­ten­dent serves in a dis­trict. Teach­ers and prin­ci­pals know stu­dents best; let them ad­dress these mul­ti­fac­eted is­sues and cre­ate the tools to fix them. A data-fix­ated fig­ure­head is ill-ad­vised. This ap­proach has been tried, and it failed. It is time for a bet­ter-in­formed, com­pre­hen­sive ap­proach to ed­u­ca­tion.

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