Grand Rapids Public Schools face enough stress as it is. The loss of population, the fiscal crunch — let’s face it, these are trying times. And then there’s the ongoing labor discussion, a battle where the teachers have repeatedly been outflanked.
In today’s Press the tables turn slightly. As Dave Murray reports it turns out that the administration’s figures for failing Alternative Education were three years old. The horror stories (e.g. two percent graduation in Job Corps) were not true; the teachers have been delivering. Yet, based on the presentation of the data, the Board voted to ax ninety-five positions and revamp the programs.
Was this an act of dishonesty? Manipulation? How could suspicions no arise: as Murray reported, some of the programs axed actually seem to be delivering the promised results. At the very least, it’s a clear case of bad data driving decision making. Only one board member, Tony Baker asked for more data. Information is not our enemy, but the safeguard against foolishness and futility.
But what of the Board? The obvious fact is that they believed the picture as presented. The data in this case only confirmed what was already in their mind: these are incorrigible kids. The teachers aren’t doing the job. This picture can seem so plausible, especially if you’re of a different color and certainly if you’re from a different class.
And if you’re locked in a long-standing labor dispute, the call is that much easier.
Now we can’t take our class or social position out of decision making (see Judge Sotamayor’s apt words), but like the Judge we can take them into account. Here, Baker gets it right again: good decisions need good data.