How can well-meaning, data-driven,
attempts to solve social problems actually make things worse?
Campbell’s Law may hold the answer. Crafted by a social scientist nearly
a half-century ago, the law basically says: “when a measure
becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.” The problems play out in many
fields, including education. Attempts to evaluate schools and teachers based on
reading and math scores cause educators to do everything possible to boost
results – whether that’s narrowing curricula, going goofy for test
preparation, or cooking the books. It brings to mind those old Soviet
factories, with their production quotas and shoddy products. But Campbell’s Law
applies to more than test scores. We’ve seen it play out when schools are told to
improve school safety numbers or to drive up graduation rates. Now, none of
this means that we should shy away from accountability or measurement in
education. But it does mean that we need to be a lot more attentive to how those
metrics get used. They need to respect the law. Campbell’s law, that is. How do
you think we should tackle accountability in American education?
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