This past week in my doctoral course work we have been studying the differences between quantitative and qualitative research. Sounds exciting huh?! Actually, it really has generated some great thinking and online discussions (it’s a blended program).
Now, I know what you are thinking… or at least what I was thinking when I realized we were learning about quantitative and qualitative research, “Why do we need to study this? Let me save you the mystery, one uses numbers and one uses observations as the basis of research.” Sound about right? Technically it is correct, but why does the difference between the two matter? That is the question to ask, why does the difference matter.
Think about this. Can you tell all that you need to tell from numbers? Do data points tell you all that you need to know about a student? How about groups of students? Or better yet how about an entire school? If you just look at the numbers, you are not going to know the story behind the numbers. No wait…
You are not going to know the humans behind the numbers if you just look at the numbers. You are not going to know the stories of struggle and success when you just look at numbers. There is a face associated with each point of data and each score.
This makes me sad because in public schools we are not dealing in numbers, we are dealing with people and their education. We are shaping their future and their lives each day. What do the numbers for that look like?
Now let’s look at our “accountability” system in schools. How is the “accountability” structure set up? This sums it up:
This is best instructional practice, right? This is how research says we should assess student learning, correct? Parents would be 100% satisfied with our teachers if this was our approach to teaching wouldn’t they? I don’t think so. I would not allow this to occur and neither would my parents, but yet we allow politicians to do this to our schools and to our students.
Why? Why do we allow this from our elected officials?
How about the students? Is it fair that all of their learning come down to a single test taken on a day chosen by someone that does not even know the education level and abilities of the student? Did their parents just get a divorce? Are they dealing with an unknown illness? Were they up all night because their family was just evicted from their apartment because their landlord sold out to a developer? What happens as adults when we experience this? We usually take a day off work. Can kids do this on state testing days? Don't forget the school is rated on participation rates of state testing too.
When a student is told they must pass a test or they could be held back from their peers or not allowed to graduate, that’s fair huh? Does this increase their stress and anxiety? You better believe it does.
All of this from comparing qualitative vs quantitative research. I told you we had great thinking and conversations.
Here is my thinking about the difference between the two: You cannot just look at the data. You must take the data and then learn about the people behind the data to understand “the why” with the data. When you just look at numbers you just don’t get it. We do not live in a black and white world no matter what the data says.
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
Director of Instruction and Leadership Development
Do what you can, with what you have, where you are
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