The Wednesday Pop Culture Rant has decided we are ready for the end of the Big Data craze. Yawn. Can we just state the obvious here, starting with Billy Beane and his precious Moneyball system. Tell us again how many championships he has won? Or how about even a trip to the World Series? That’s right: Zippo. You can crunch that zero all day long but no one is getting a ring from an algorithm. The Rant met Beane once at a conference. Let’s just say Billy was most interested in processing data about Billy. We assume he has a Google Alert set for himself.
On the education front, seemingly every week a group breathlessly announces they have discovered the perfect matrix, measured via an assessment test, to save our schools. The Gates Foundation delivers these initiatives like a philanthropic PEZ dispenser. Never mind that companies like the Educational Testing Service and Pearson drive these standards so they can make millions administering the tests. The Rant would like to point out that decades of real research and data have confirmed time again that if you keep students safe, healthy, and well-fed at home and school1you can deliver instruction via sock puppet if needed and garner positive results. Bu that of course would require an investment in communities and infrastructure and jobs, as well as access to opportunities and . . . what’s that other thing? Oh yeah, an equitable school funding system. Forget that. On to the next magical test! This one was beta-tested on unicorns, so we know it works.
The Rant understands data and numbers have their place, but we also understand this: no perfectly honed assessment test will help a student if her head is spinning because she hasn’t had a decent meal all week; no measurement of wingspan, 40-yard dash times, or power indexes can overcome an athlete that wants to be in the da club more than on the field; the smallest drop of fear will dismantle the most elegantly constructed equation; emotion often overwhelms reason when it comes to politics, religion, and money; we generally reach a conclusion first and then search for the numbers to support us.
Big Data offers a path to the one thing we crave in a tumultuous world: Certainty. But like all Answers, it crumbles when faced with the complexities of existence and the mysteries of our often self-defeating choices.