Another dot in the blogosphere?

Numbered priorities?

Posted on: May 1, 2016

If you listen to any major keynote or speech about educational leadership, you might hear the rhetoric on making decisions based on data.

This is definitely better than relying only on a feel-good factor, persuasive opinion, or charismatic sales pitch. But if we are going to make data-informed decisions, let us make the right ones.

According to this TechCrunch article, 98% of education funding in the USA is spent on learners after the age of 5. This is despite the diminishing returns of influencing learners after the age of 3.

Where did the latter figure come from?

Rate of return of human capital investment

According to research by the World Economic Forum, the return on investment drops rapidly after preschool. It rationalises that we should focus on preschool education more because it provides the foundation for adult cognition.

However, numbers alone do not tell the whole story. No sane decision makers would allow policy to dictate that the rest of schooling be deprioritised. They find other data to make those decisions. For example, they might use correlational data on the level of education of a population to economic wellbeing.

That said, numbers are seductive because they simplify complex phenomena. Take The Economist’s comparison of teacher salaries and work hours for example.

The Economist: Do shorter hours or higher wages make better teachers?

Without considering different contexts and quality of life, it relied solely on numbers to recommend which countries teachers could move to in order to get more money while working for fewer hours.

I do not know any real educator who would make that sort of data-informed decision. You would have to be a mercenary to do that. Or a bean-counting, number-only-crunching bureaucrat.

Numbers and graphs might help make sense of complex phenomena, but decisions cannot be based off spreadsheets alone. Most people understand that if they borrow from common sense. Even more might be terrified to learn how many decisions are actually made this way.

Those that prioritise by number-oriented data might argue they are doing things right. All of us need to remind them that it is far more important to do the right things.

2 Responses to "Numbered priorities?"

SzeYee: RT @ashley: Numbered priorities?… via


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