Giving Compass’ Take:
• Campbell’s Law posits that when set standards are used to measure success, data will be skewed to meet those standards regardless of true progress. As AEI writes, we should consider that when enacting education reform.
• Basically, this article urges those in the education field to prioritize real learning over hitting numbers. What standards should be enforced in that case? How do we measure success?
· Read more about education reform across the US.
The first time I heard of Campbell’s Law was in a college class in public policy. The professor asked, “Can data ever cause problems? Can it ever hurt?” It seemed like a trick question. Pretty much in unison, the class uncertainly mumbled a version of, “I don’t think so.”
The professor then asked, “What if a police department decides to evaluate officers based on the number of traffic tickets they write? Could anything go wrong?” Someone observed that cops would try to write lots of tickets — including for people who might not deserve them.
The professor asked, “Okay, so what if they flip it? What if they reward cops who issue fewer tickets?” Well, duh. Police might turn a blind eye to real problems.
The instructor smiled and said, “See, you can think of lots of ways where data might hurt.” With that, he introduced us to Campbell’s Law. Formulated in 1976 by social psychologist Donald Campbell, it reads, “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.” Put simply: “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”
Read the full article about Campbell’s Law and education reform by Frederick M. Hess at AEI.
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