“Data is Fabulous!”

by Robert Pondiscio
December 9th, 2010

In 2nd grade, you might expect your child to read Charlotte’s Web in language arts; learn the oceans and continents for geography; understand the changing of the seasons in science; identify odd and even numbers, and learn to round numbers to the nearest ten in math. 

In this California classroom, they’re planning their Spring data growth targets.

Someone needs to explain to me how this benefits children in any way.


  1. How can a teacher live with herself after giving a lesson like this? It seems filled with falsity–the emptiness, the tone of voice, the hype.

    Why are they treating “growth” as more important than the actual material learned? And why must children say in unison that “data is fabulous”?

    Goal-setting is the rage now. And it is bizarre. I didn’t set learning goals when I was little, certainly not in that manner. I learned things.

    Comment by Diana Senechal — December 9, 2010 @ 9:53 am

  2. Was there a lesson? I didn’t catch that. Perhaps it was a badly designed lesson about gravity. Anxiety rolls downhill.

    Comment by Robert Pondiscio — December 9, 2010 @ 9:56 am

  3. I don’t know. I thought the research said that children setting goals could actually be productive. The kids are also talking about hard work and practicing, which are important according to research like that of Carol Dweck. This video is based on NWEA’s MAP assessment. If teachers are supposed to be using data to improve instruction, isn’t this an example of that?

    Comment by VA Parent — December 9, 2010 @ 10:10 am

  4. Could second graders conceivably have the ability to abstract concrete learning goals into data growth? I doubt it. They can understand “I will read 25 chapter books” or “I will learn how to read and write numbers up to 1000.” But not this.

    Comment by Robert Pondiscio — December 9, 2010 @ 10:12 am

  5. [...] “Data is Fabulous!” « The Core Knowledge Blog. [...]

    Pingback by “Data is Fabulous!” « The Core Knowledge Blog « Parents 4 democratic Schools — December 9, 2010 @ 10:45 am

  6. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Alltop Education, Robert Pondiscio. Robert Pondiscio said: What did your 2nd grader do in school today? Probably not set data goals. Ick. http://bit.ly/dZ1EST #edreform #edu [...]

    Pingback by Tweets that mention “Data is Fabulous!” « The Core Knowledge Blog, The Core Knowledge Blog -- Topsy.com — December 9, 2010 @ 11:19 am

  7. It may be helpful to set certain kinds of goals. But that does not mean that huge portions of class time should be devoted to goal-setting or that goals should overtake a school’s mission.

    Robert, you make an important distinction between abstract “data growth” goals and concrete, substantive goals. But even the latter sort get silly when taken too far (as they often are).

    I am suspicious of goals like “I will read 25 chapter books.” Who is to say that the student who reads 25 chapter books learns more than the one who reads five challenging books over and over? Why is the number of the books deemed more important than their content?

    As for the goal of reading and writing numbers up to 1000, if that’s what they’re being taught in math class, then their responsibility is to learn it. They don’t need a goal for that. Nor does a goal enhance the meaning.

    Yes, goals have a place, but schools are going goal-crazy right now. You can learn a subject–not only the immediate task, but its larger implications–without dwelling on goals in this manner. It is like the question of strategies–certain strategies may be useful for reading and other subjects, but that does not mean that lesson upon lesson should be devoted to strategies.

    Comment by Diana Senechal — December 9, 2010 @ 11:43 am

  8. I take your point about the value — or lack thereof — of young children setting a goal of reading “25 chapter books.” A lot has to happen to make that activity instructionally worthwhile. But how do you explain to a seven-year-old what a ten point increase in particular skill like number sense looks like? It is quite literally, an abstraction of an abstraction. This is at best, a waste of time. And possibly something far worse. Or sadder. If you teach the content or skills, the data will reflect the improvement. What possible value can come from putting kids on the hook for improved scores?

    You’re precisely right, Diana. The “goal” does not enhance the learning.

    Comment by Robert Pondiscio — December 9, 2010 @ 11:49 am

  9. I don’t have a major concern about the goal setting or “data is fabulous” per say with seven to eight year olds. My problem with this lesson? You know what it is. It’s okay class. You can say it.

    ONE BLOODY LESSON FOR THE WHOLE CLASS. How about if the teacher or the good doctah had an individual/customized goal setting session for each student?

    Beyond that problem, did the same kids in that class provide all the answers? Of course they did. And how does that make the more challenged kids feel? Are there kids in this second grade class all over the map in terms of levels and ability? Of course there are.

    This is not an indictment of this teacher or her supervisor, per se. It’s an indictment against what’s going on in schools all across the country.

    Sorry Robert and Diana. My orthodoxy will simply not go away, especially if I believe I have a valid argument.

    Comment by Paul Hoss — December 9, 2010 @ 12:04 pm

  10. I’m no fan of all-individualization, all-the-time, but in this case you’re exactly right, Paul. How does it make sense to hold individual students accountable for class goals? This is a conversation that should have taken place between the teacher and the admin, away from kids and not in child-friendly language. This is no different that the testing pep rallies that have become ubiquitous in schools. And just as bad.

    Comment by Robert Pondiscio — December 9, 2010 @ 12:10 pm

  11. As a language arts lesson I’d have to give this an F: data are plural, their fabulousness depending upon whether they represent ticket sales for Lady Gaga’s latest tour, or deaths from Ebola virus.

    It could be argued that it’s a math lesson, though nearly content-free.

    But,yes, this is simply a pep rally – manipulating little people into feeling that their volition is part of the testing equation for their class.

    Comment by Howard Skillington — December 9, 2010 @ 2:32 pm

  12. Those kids have no idea what they’re talking about. Poor kids.

    Comment by Miss Eyre — December 9, 2010 @ 7:04 pm

  13. The obnoxious “science” of pedagogy in all its pharisaical glory.

    Here, also, is another reason why the words “research shows” should evoke skepticism in any educational context.

    Comment by James O'Keeffe — December 9, 2010 @ 8:54 pm

  14. “Faaabulous” video – it’s like watching an episode of “The Office,” but with second graders!

    Comment by Roxanna Elden — December 9, 2010 @ 9:37 pm

  15. I keep thinking it might be a parody. But I’d expect to see a twinkle somewhere if it were. There is no twinkle at all.

    And that tone! Why do people use that tone when talking to kids?

    Comment by Diana Senechal — December 10, 2010 @ 8:18 am

  16. The apotheosis of “that tone” is the folks at the Teacher’s College reading and writing workshop. Every staff developer there has the exact same sing-songy patois. They never call children kids? They always address them as “authors?” Or “readers”? Or “test-takers?” And they end every sentence with a question mark? Even when it’s not a question?

    Comment by Robert Pondiscio — December 10, 2010 @ 8:46 am

  17. Robert: I had to use Reader/Writer Workshop when I was teaching middle school out in California and it drove me crazy! I hadn’t been formally trained in it (they had switched me from a schedule of history classes to English classes with little notice) but the principal and/or “reading specialist” kept dropping by my class to pointedly criticize me for using the “wrong” terminology. I don’t remember the specific words now, but it was similar to the difference between using “introduction” vs. “starting paragraph” or “essay” vs. “composition.” The kids didn’t care, but I wanted to pull my hair out!

    Comment by Attorney DC — December 10, 2010 @ 9:27 am

  18. Argh. This is one more instance of a chronic problem, mistaking policy for pedagogy. Accountability is a real and important policy goal but that doesn’t mean substituting nonsense like this for actual teaching.

    A few years back it was discovered that kids lacked “thinking skills.” Instead of adopting rich curricula, school boards went directly at the problem and bought “thinking skills” programs. I remember visiting a classroom where the walls were plastered with exhortations: “Think About Something! Now Think About It A Different Way!” That same level of finesse is evident in this video.

    Comment by Nelson Smith — December 10, 2010 @ 10:36 am

  19. Oi-I almost had shaken that corny “readers” and “writers” thing from my memory. For some reason, it never did motivate that one 8th grader of mine who was stoned most mornings, but the coach from the region didn’t care- it was TC verbatim or else!

    As for the video- sad, that we’ve reduced these kids to scores. I do think that goal setting has its place, but not like this. However, in light of the current climate in NYC with regard to value added scores, well, it won’t surprise me if this video becomes a model for teachers to use, either by their own motivation or their administrators. :(

    Comment by TJ — December 10, 2010 @ 11:26 am

  20. The first thing that jumped out at me is that the goal should be an increase in the *MEDIAN* test score, rather than in the *MEAN*. Statistics 101…

    Comment by Crimson Wife — December 10, 2010 @ 10:50 pm

  21. Statistics 101 is in THIRD grade.

    Comment by Robert Pondiscio — December 10, 2010 @ 10:51 pm

  22. Robert, where did you get this video? Were you surfing Utube and it just popped up? Do we know any background about it? Do we know why the video was made, and its intended audience? Maybe Dr Jurich is just so enthusiastic that she wants to share what she’s doing. If that is the case then I would wonder about a lot of things. If I were a parent surfing Utube and came across a video like this and saw my own kid in it, then I would start trying to remember if I had signed a permission slip, or if the school even told us about it. I, personally, would not be offended, and I would not complain, but in today’s world I don’t think you just bring a camera to school and put stuff on the internet.

    A lot of things are easy to figure out. We all know the rationale of goal setting and having kids invest in goals, of making everyone a “stake holder” in what we are doing. And we certainly all like the idea of learners actively managing their own learning, but only to a degree appropriate to age. I know very little about elementary school students, but to me this seems wildly age inappropriate.

    The kids seem engaged and enthusiastic, but I don’t think this means much. I think you could bring in figures about tea production in China in the 1890′s and get the same engagement and enthusiasm, if you know how to communicate that they should be enthusiastic. (I don’t, but I think Dr. Jurich does.)

    Consider this scenario. You are a junior in high school, vaguely aware that you ought to be thinking about a career, and you see this video clip. Would you want to be a teacher? I don’t think I would. I think I would walk away, mentally crossing “teacher” off my list of possible careers. I presume Dr. Jurich is the principal here and Mrs. Graves is the regular second grade teacher. Like a political spouse Mrs. Graves is smiling and nodding as the situation demands. There’s nothing wrong with doing that on occasion. We all have to now and then, in the interests of civility and supporting each other. And I suppose Mrs. Graves doesn’t have to do this very often. But it sure doesn’t make the occupation of teacher look at all attractive.

    So again, why and for what audience was this video clip made?

    But I’m glad this clip exists. It supports my point the other day in another comment that video records of what actually goes on in actual classrooms can be very valuable.

    Comment by Brian Rude — December 11, 2010 @ 6:25 am

  23. Those are big RIT jumps, if I remember my MAP stuff. That’s probably why there’s a meeting. It’s a “celebration,” which has a special meaning under some program or other.

    I wonder if they have meetings in the classes that don’t meet their goals, and who conducts those meetings. “Did you meet your goal?….Ooooops. But you agreed to keep working hard.”

    Comment by Richard Cathcart — December 12, 2010 @ 8:09 am

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