When I began writing a book about education and the data movement, I found the title Managing to Teach compelling and appropriate. In addition to being short and active, the title spoke to the issue of management – instructional management – which is an important theme of this age. It also had dual meanings reflecting a balanced view of this era. For a teacher who is comfortable teaching certain ways, is used to independence and personal craft, the intrusion of information tools, especially the kinds of tools brought in by NCLB, seem to make their job harder. Those teachers may need to manage to teach despite the way accountability was making their work harder. At the same time, the information made available to school leaders was making it more possible for them to manage instruction. Managing to teach is then about teaching on a systemic scale where there is a focus on all students and information tools provide greater systemic visibility.
Now that the book has been approved by the publisher’s editorial advisory board and is much closer to publication, I am beginning to wonder if this title is the best. One reason I am rethinking this is that the story of educational data is much more systemic than I had expected when I began this project. While improving instruction is a commonly stated goal for the collection and use of data, the evidence is that data is as useful, if not more so, in organizational work. The focus on the individual seems eclipsed by the focus on the system. Certainly the (weak) research base is stronger in organizational uses than in instructional ones. Also, while No Child Left Behind (NCLB) certainly made the work of many teachers more difficult, the data movement is not entirely based on NCLB, although NCLB casts a long shadow over educational data.
I began this project with sentiments influenced by my experience in an academic setting, one of the finest in terms of understanding teaching: the University of Michigan. As I have moved deeper into this process my view has broadened and I have been able to more fully see the needs for certain types of accountability and evaluation than I did before. Still, many people have responded so well to the title that it may stay. The issue then will be what goes to the right of the colon? Managing to Teach: American Education Enters the Information Management Age. It has possibilities, but maybe (like the book) this title needs just a little more work.