Dispersed Discretion on the Wane

In the latest Newsweek, Jeffrey Adler sheds light on “Super Crunchers,” the new book by Ian Ayres. Ayres is an econometrician and law professor at Yale. He contends that “objective, data-based decision making, made possible by a virtually inexhaustible supply of inexpensive information” will replace human expertise and intuition.

Increasingly, jobs that used to call for independent judgment, especially about other people, are being routinized and dumbed down.

Banks no longer care about a loan officer’s assessment of whether a borrower is a good risk; everything they need to know is in the numbers.

Baseball managers increasingly judge prospects by quantifiable statistics, not their drive or hustle.

Clearly, educators in the era of NCLB risk being induced into a numbers-game frenzy that fits this broader trend. “Did you know” it’s current fodder for Karl Fisch over at the Fischbowl?

The school year has hardly begun, and already school systems are aswim in numbers as last year’s high-stakes testing results churn out to the public. In response, collaborative school teams are conjuring up research-based instructional remedies to try to make this year’s numbers add up.

The more synergistic our teams, the greater our consensus building—then the stronger our remedies.

Not with a Bang: Civilization’s Accelerating Challenge” (Brown, 2007) backlashes our information culture. The author points to a growing belief in business that we are facing a talent shortage. Businesses, like schools, are looking to build teams rather than perk individuals. This team focus is not without its own challenges:

One apparent problem is the innate competitiveness of those who are both capable and ambitious. They not only want to win, but they also want to get recognition, reward, and advancement for winning.

So companies that want to go the team way—or feel they need to because of a shortage of talent—will have to find ways to meld the star and team systems. This is the problem that those who run athletic teams seem to struggle with endlessly.

If team-building is the answer, then people skills are paramount. In an information-rich age, people who are wise and effective processors of information gain value. Leaders who demonstrate that “their instincts are more accurate than their reading of test data” gain value. Managers who “give more thought to the increasingly complicated nature of human-machine interfaces” gain value. People, make that teams, who demonstrate adaptability gain value.

Efficiency—doing things right—should not be the goal. Instead, it should be effectiveness—doing the right things.

The data on student performance gets right granular these days. Strong teams in schools can use that data to focus on the unique challenges of students. From there though, we should buck the broader trend.

Our solutions should remain human relationship driven, not data driven.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: