Live By the Data, Die By the Data

Sep 19, 2019 by

In the 1950s, there was a very popular television show called Naked City.  It began something like this: “There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This is one of them.”

There are 1800 public schools in our Naked City and Maspeth High school is one of them.  It is scandal-gripped. Many other schools have similar “stories.”

Maspeth High School is just one narrative of our Naked City. ( where schools, like emperors in folks tales, wear new clothes for spectators).

The Maspeth outrage is probably not the most recent, since it was reported several days ago in The New York Post, which is not a paper of record when it comes to objective journalism, but yet has done some fine and exclusive investigative reports on waste and corruption.

When the Post doesn’t revert to its default practice of blaming the teachers union for every malaise, it sometimes performs a public service, as it has done with the Maspeth High School revelations. Their recent cover story was a damning indictment of the school’s administration and also revealed the gullibility of many people in charge of evaluating the quality of education.

The facts (or allegations) speak for themselves.

An astonishing number of different types and specific examples of deceit, fraud and other violations, some of them perhaps rising to the level of criminality, were credibly presented. It strongly appears they have been part of the school’s standard operating procedure for a long time.

The school had a pristine reputation for academics which, it turns out, was based on concocted achievements and success too wildly fantastic to be true. But still people believed because they wanted to.

The principal got prestigious awards based on shameless and brazen lies. 

This is typically enabled when the climate of a school suppresses whistle-blowers and  exudes a culture that rewards co-conspirators.If even the allegations stick, the principal should be fired and lose his pension.

Why are sleaze and double-dealing so rampant?   

Our schools are afflicted by one common villain: data.  There is crushing pressure to get it “right” . Its utility is not as a genuine evaluative tool of the quality of instruction and learning, but as a weapon to advance sinister political purposes.

Various forms of data collection, whether for suspension,graduation, and attendance rates, or  Regents exams outcomes, are misnomered “accountability measures” used to judge schools, administrators, teachers and the Department of Education itself.

The effect is not to whip into shape but into deformity.

Statistics lend themselves as tools to either create or deconstruct truth or the perception of it, whichever is more convenient to the power-wielders.

We’d all be a lot better off if the role of data were dramatically downplayed. 

It is mostly dubiously researched or irrelevant and it incentivizes  the kind of malfeasance that is alleged at Maspeth High School and is so massively widespread throughout the city.

The DOE should compile as little date as is minimally required to satisfy the law and the law should be tested over and over. Educators and the general public should advocate to have regulations for reporting most data greatly relaxed or eliminated.

We must be less conscious and driven by the false idol of data. Instead of being a tool of skills and scholarship advancement, it is paradoxically the opposite.

“Those who live by the sword, die by the sword”. The same is true of data.

Ron Isaac

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